The US House of Representatives has voted to block Ajit Pai’s attempt to kill a San Francisco ordinance designed to promote broadband competition in apartment buildings.
As we reported last week, the Federal Communications Commission chair has scheduled a July 10 vote on a measure that would preempt the San Francisco city ordinance, which lets Internet service providers use the existing wiring inside multiunit residential and commercial properties even if the wiring is already used by another ISP that serves the building. The ordinance applies only when the inside wiring belongs to the property owner, but it makes it easier for ISPs to compete in many multiunit buildings already served by another provider.
Pai claimed that the city’s rule “deters broadband deployment” and infringes on the FCC’s regulation of cable wiring. But US Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) proposed a budget amendment that would forbid the FCC from using any funding to implement or enforce Pai’s preemption proposal.
“The FCC’s mission is to promote competition,” Porter said in a statement her office provided to Ars. “We should be holding them accountable to fulfilling this mission, which is why I’m seeking to defund their declaratory draft ruling preempting San Francisco’s local ordinance, effectively preventing competition.”
The House, which is controlled by Democrats, yesterday approved the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act for fiscal 2020 in a mostly party-line vote of 224-196.
Earlier in the day, the House approved a block of amendments including Porter’s proposal that “Prohibits the Federal Communications Committee from finalizing a draft declaratory ruling that would overturn local ordinances that promote broadband competition.” The amendment’s passage by a vote of 227-220 was also noted in the Congressional Record.
Porter’s office confirmed to Ars that “Congresswoman Porter’s amendment was included in a package of amendments that passed together.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) supported the amendment, a Pelosi representative told Ars, which helped get it into the budget bill.
The amendment could still be defeated in the Senate, which Republicans control 53 to 47, or Trump could veto the appropriations bill.
Pai’s preemption proposal is titled “Improving Competitive Broadband Access to Multi-Tenant Environments,” even though it would actually block a rule that gives ISPs access to multi-unit buildings.
Pai’s preemption proposal came in response to a petition from a trade group that represents ISPs that serve multi-tenant properties.
Under the San Francisco rule, “Those who wish to make use of a building owner’s wiring know that they have a regulatory right to share the facility, so they do not need to offer the building owner the same compensation for use that they would otherwise need to in the absence of a regulatory mandate,” Pai’s proposal says. “Thus, the building owner is deprived of compensation, which it may not be able to otherwise recover. Consequently, Article 52 reduces the value of wiring to a building owner, and therefore the building owner has less incentive to invest in deploying new, additional, or upgraded wiring.”
Porter defended the San Francisco ordinance, telling Ars that “The communications industry is in dire need of more competition. San Francisco’s Article 52 has been incredibly effective in promoting broadband competition—giving residents the benefit of competition and choice in the market, increasing their service quality while decreasing their monthly bills.”