FCC wireless ruling will benefit consumers

Last Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission issued a new rule that would enhance competition between telecommunications providers. This consumer-friendly measure forbids telecommunications carriers from entering into exclusive contracts with building owners, including contracts that restrict the owners from permitting access to other telecommunications service providers. Landlords disagree with the FCC’s measures, as they want to maintain jurisdiction over their property. The FCC’s decision to further competition among telecommunications providers in multiple-tenant environments, though, should be commended, as it serves to obliterate the last obstacles to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, furthers competition between communications carriers and, ultimately, gives the purchasing decision back to the consumer.
The Telecommunications Act ensures competition between communications carriers and explicitly allows any communications business to compete in any market — including the tenant market. Although building landlords feel territorial about their property, as most Americans feel possessive about their effects, they do not have the right to decide who provides their tenants’ telephone services, Internet services and cable. Many landlords have financial interests in the communications carriers that monopolize their buildings, and thus it is in their best interest to exclude other services from offering their services to offices in these buildings. The tenant market has been one of the last obstacles impeding the Telecommunications Act from providing capitalistic competition between communications providers, and it is about time these minimonopolies are broken.
Small communications businesses and companies new to the telecommunications market have been the voices urging the FCC to take action. Larger companies, like phone giants Verizon Communications and SBC Communications, which have lines into almost all of the approximately 750,000 office buildings across the country, have kept silent in this debate, knowing that landlords’ exclusionary rights have kept them dominating the communications’ market.
Much like Minnesota’s airline market, which is dominated by a few large corporations, small and young communication companies have trouble breaking into the market when older, more prominent communications carriers have a tight hold on the market. Many landlords worry that newer, less renowned companies will not offer reliable services for their tenants and tend to trust the reliability of an older name like Verizon or SBC.
Although it is hard for tiny communications businesses to break into a big market, and new companies are often not stable, the choice should still be left up to the consumer. If tenants do not have the option to select their own communication carriers, they also have no voice in how the company provides service, since the freedom to quit one service and utilize another is taken out of consumer hands in the current office-tenant environment.
Some real estate agencies, which oppose government regulation, have formed consortiums that impose self-regulations and encourage members to open up office buildings. Real Access Alliance is a band of real estate agencies who think the FCC should back off. The FCC is open to the option of self-regulation and is currently monitoring real estate agencies’ efforts to enhance communication competition. If self-regulation proves to be successful, the FCC will voluntarily repeal its measure to forbid communication companies from entering into exclusive contracts. The commission’s openness to regulation alterations and the immediacy with which it handled this competition barrier should be commended.