Phone Competition May Hit Apartments

Thursday, October 12th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — New federal rules approved Thursday would help millions of apartment dwellers share in the fruits of new competition between local telephone companies, promised by a recent law opening up the market for telecommunications services.

The Federal Communications Commission adopted rules that would bar phone companies from getting exclusive rights to serve apartment complexes and office buildings with multiple businesses.

The FCC also voted to block telephone companies from negotiating sole access to rooftops and hallways — space needed to set up equipment for providing service.

The commission approved a provision to allow apartment tenants to use satellite dishes not just to receive programming but also to get emerging phone and high-speed Internet services.

New entrants in the local phone market, slowly bringing their services to communities nationwide, say they have a particularly difficult time making headway in apartment and business complexes.

A phone company might have a pre-existing arrangement to offer service in the building and might already have space set aside for its phone lines and other equipment.

The new competitors have built their own networks — fiber optic lines, fixed wireless and other services — reaching to the door of an apartment building, but say they need federal assistance in getting access to the last few feet to reach the consumer.

``The FCC has to send a strong signal to landlords that competition is the name of the game,'' said Jonathan Askin, vice president at the Association for Local Telecommunications Services, which represents competing telecom companies.

About a third of all Americans live in some type of multiunit complex, Askin said. ``We want to get access to the building, and we want to justly compensate anybody that provides such access.''

Tenants, who may only have one option for a phone carrier when they move in, say they would prefer to see more competition as well.

``I'd like to have a choice,'' said Kitty Higgins of Slidell, La., who has lived in apartments in several states. ``When you get to a place, you just don't know what is there.''

But in trying to promote local phone competition, the FCC has faced stiff opposition from landlords, who argue that the government shouldn't be telling building owners whom they must give access to. They consider this an unconstitutional ``taking'' of their property.

``We certainly hope that they will demonstrate sensitivity to the constitutional issues that we have raised,'' said Roger Platt, spokesman for the Real Access Alliance, a coalition of real estate industry associations that represent 1 million members nationwide.

The group also believes the market is working and has urged office building owners to reject exclusive contracts with telecom carriers.

Some key lawmakers agree and have warned the FCC against overstepping its bounds.

``I don't think (the FCC) can mandate access in private buildings without legislation setting down parameters for private property rights,'' said Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., who heads the House Commerce telecommunications subcommittee. ``There is a marketplace incentive for building owners to provide those kind of services.''

Industry officials anticipate the FCC will limit its regulation to phone companies — barring them from entering into exclusive contracts with building owners — rather than trying to impose a mandate on landlords.

The FCC already has concluded that utilities that control space on rooftops and other parts of the building should be required under law to lease these areas to telephone companies offering new services. And the commission is weighing expanding this requirement to phone companies that control cable and wiring in a building.


On the Net:

Association for Local Telecommunications Services site:

Real Access Alliance site: