Friday, October 13, 2000

FCC blocks limits on phone access for building tenants

By Kalpana Srinivasan
The Associated Press

        WASHINGTON — Federal rules approved Thursday would help millions of apartment dwellers and small businesses share in the fruits of new competition among local telephone companies, promised by a recent law opening up the market for such services.

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

        The agency said it would weigh whether to expand those rules to residential apartment buildings and whether to prohibit telecom companies from getting exclusive marketing agreements or bonuses from landlords.

        The FCC voted to block telephone companies from negotiating sole access to rooftops and hallways in commercial buildings — space needed to set up equipment for providing service. Phone companies that control these areas in apartment complexes, campuses and office buildings would have to give other carriers and cable companies access, under the agency's action.

        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.

        “Access to the "last 100 feet' is one of the last remaining barriers to complete end-to-end competition for telecommunications services,” said FCC Chairman William Kennard. He welcomed the efforts of the real estate industry to voluntarily encourage more choice for tenants. But he added that the agency, in reviewing the impact of Thursday's actions and of industry efforts, could still impose new requirements to foster competition.

        In other action, the FCC allocated a portion of the airwaves, transferred from the government for private use, that could be used to speed the rollout of high-speed Internet, data and video services, particularly in rural areas.

        On the building issue, the commission took cautious steps to fuel new competition by imposing rules on telephone carriers. But the agency was careful to sidestep thorny jurisdictional issues by not placing requirements on the landlords themselves.

        New communications competitors have built 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.


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