FCC to limit cable contracts in large-scale housing

Cable contracts for apartment complexes and condominiums might become null and void, as the FCC considers changing its policy.

Joy Petersen

U.S. apartment dwellers, including many University students, will soon have the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of their own cable provider.

The Federal Communications Commission announced Wednesday that cable television providers will no longer be able to make exclusive contracts with multiresident buildings, a practice which prohibits residents to choose which cable provider they want.

Existing contracts will be considered null and void if residents choose another cable provider for their apartment or condominium, but existing contracts will stand until residents want to change their provider, said Sena Fitzmaurice, Comcast senior director of corporate communications and government affairs.

She said the FCC approved the order Wednesday, but the exact language won’t be released to major companies for two to three weeks.

FCC board member John Berresford spoke to the FCC Wednesday.

“This Report and Order will bring more choices and competition in multichannel video and broadband services to millions of Americans who live in apartment and condominium buildings,” he said in the speech.

Because 30 percent of Americans live in multiresident dwellings, Berresford said the FCC is hoping to lower cable prices by allowing smaller and local cable companies to compete.

Comcast, however, maintains a different perspective on the issue.

Though the details haven’t been presented to Comcast, Fitzmaurice said she expects the language to be harmful to the company because it would limit its ability to have large contracts.

She said the issue had been discussed earlier, so the announcement wasn’t surprising.

Seventeen states, including Minnesota, and Washington, D.C., already have similar statues that void multiresident dwelling contracts with cable providers, but the FCC order would mandate it nationwide.

“This action will likely guarantee years of litigation and uncertainty for consumers,” Fitzmaurice said, meaning current contract-holders will have to decide to break or keep their contracts, even though it might be included in their apartment contracts as well.

John Bilski, a manager of the 1301 University apartments in Dinkytown, said residents haven’t complained about the building’s cable provider, Dish Network, but many have complained about the channels provided and lack of high-definition capabilities.

Because cable service is included in the rental package at 1301, Bilski said he wants to please residents who want different cable providers.

“First of all, we’d have to do whatever was lawful,” Bilski said, “and, No. 2, we’d have to do what keeps the students happy.”

Bilski said 1301’s cable service is on Dish Network’s terms, but said he hopes increased competition will improve the service. He said 1301 will continue offering cable as an amenity under one provider until it has to change.

Casey Cunningham, a sophomore biology major living in Melrose Student Suites, said he’s satisfied with his cable provider through the building, but he’s mostly concerned with the price of cable.

“If it is cheaper and it is a benefit, then I’ll keep it, but I’m not so sure of how it is economically,” he said. “I’d have to find out first before I make a decision.”