Board of Supervisors Approve First-Ever Law Guaranteeing Internet Access In Multi-Unit Buildings

SAN FRANCISCO – Today, the Board of Supervisors approved Supervisor Mark Farrell’s first-ever law guaranteeing tenants the right to pick their own Internet Service Provider (ISP) in all multi-unit buildings.


Supervisor Farrell’s Policy Would Expand Service Options for Tens of Thousands of San Francisco Homes, Offices


SAN FRANCISCO – Today, the Board of Supervisors approved Supervisor Mark Farrell’s first-ever law guaranteeing tenants the right to pick their own Internet Service Provider (ISP) in all multi-unit buildings.


“Access to affordable and fast Internet must be viewed as an economic and social right in today’s world,” said Supervisor Mark Farrell. “Today, San Francisco is now one-step closer towards providing true competition and choice in the market.”


Currently, thousands of residents and businesses in multi-unit residential and commercial buildings are not given a choice in what ISP they use. Often – absent permission from a landlord, property owner, or property manager – individual ISP’s are unable to access multi-unit buildings to provide Internet service when requested by residents or businesses.


Federal law bans property owners, landlords, and property managers from entering into exclusive agreements with service providers. But local ISP’s estimate that approximately 500 multi-dwelling unit buildings, representing more than 50,000 units have limitations in place that effectively deny them the opportunity to provide Internet access.


Farrell’s law aims to remedy the situation by closing these glaring loopholes. Farrell’s policy will effectively stop this interference and establish parameters and requirements for how and when qualified ISP’s can provide service to multi-unit buildings.  


Farrell’s policy applies to commercial properties and to residential buildings that are at least four units or more. Only qualified ISP’s certified by the California Public Utilities Commission will be authorized to provide the Internet service when requested.


“Providing more choices and competition in the market is key to closing our City’s digital divide,” said Supervisor Mark Farrell. “More choice and competition is also key to providing more affordable prices and higher quality Internet service to our residents and businesses.”


“CALTEL applauds the Board of Supervisors for approving Supervisor Farrell’s proposed ordinance,” said Sarah DeYoung, Executive Director of CALTEL, a non-profit trade association that represents competitive carriers in California. “CALTEL’s members are currently unable to provide competitive communications services in over 30 buildings in San Francisco, and we look forward to having access to a clear, time-bound process for resolving building access disputes with property owners and managers. The ordinance fairly balances the rights and interests of property owners, tenants and competitive carriers, and will promote competition and competitive choice for customers of today’s critical communications services.”

"Today's passage of Supervisor Farrell's ordinance is a win for San Francisco's entrepreneurs and residents,” said Evan Engstrom, Executive Director of Engine. “Meaningful broadband access and competition is essential for a thriving startup ecosystem. The status quo, which allows landlords and building owners to cash in on unnecessarily limited broadband options, suppresses competition and limits the freedom of city residents to select the provider of their choice. We welcome the Board of Supervisors' approval of this important ordinance and the increased competition, lower prices, and faster speeds that it will bring to those living in San Francisco."


Under Farrell’s policy, qualified ISP’s are mandated to provide proper advance notice to property owners when seeking building access. Qualified ISP’s must agree up front to pay the property owner fair rent for use of space and agree to fully indemnify owners against any damages that may be caused during installation. To limit disturbances to tenants and physical changes to buildings, ISP’s are authorized to use the existing inside building wiring when it is owned by the property owner.


Mayor Lee is expected to sign Supervisor Farrell’s bill into law shortly after the bill’s second vote at the Board of Supervisors next Tuesday. The law will take effect 30-days thereafter.


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