Housing Group Blasts Proposal to Ban Broadband ‘Bulk Billing’

WASHINGTON March, 19 2024 — The National Multifamily Housing Council wrote on Wednesday to the Federal Communications Commission, criticizing the agency’s recent proposal to ban landlords from charging tenants in bulk for internet, cable, and satellite services. 

On March 5, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel shared a proposal to ban bulk billing, arguing that the practice limits consumer choice and raises cost-of-living expenses. 

“Everyone deserves to have a choice of broadband provider,” Rosenworcel said. “That is why it is not right when your building or apartment complex chooses that service for you, saddling you with unwanted costs, and preventing you from signing up for the plan and provider you really want. This proposal shuts down these practices. It boosts competition and consumer choice and builds on our ongoing efforts to improve broadband transparency.”

The NMHC, an organization which represents and advocates for landlords, argued that proposals to ban bulk billing would ultimately, “upend the multifamily broadband market, harm residents, and disincentivize investment in broadband services.” The group warns that rural, low-income, and smaller rental properties could be most negatively affected by a ban on bulk billing. 

“Regulation of bulk billing would be contrary to law,” the NMHC added.

“In enacting 47 U.S.C. § 543(d), Congress has endorsed bulk billing arrangements, and it has never granted the Commission authority to regulate broadband rates,” the group wrote

In addition, the group argues bulk billing is, “an extremely valuable tool” for advancing new technologies and increasing broadband access to underserved communities. 

Proponents of bulk billing claim the practice benefits the economically disadvantaged by eliminating the need for credit checks, installation fees, and individual contracts. The practice gives every tenant high quality internet access with less hassle and at an affordable price, bulk billing defenders say. Moreover, the growing popularity of remote work makes the need for dependable internet access more critical. 

Bryan Rader, president of internet service provider Pavlov Media, lamented that a bulk billing ban would create unnecessary obstacles for disadvantaged apartment dwellers. 

Rader told Broadband Breakfast that bulk billing allows tenants to move in with all their service already activated, a convenience for communities that, “historically didn’t have solutions.” 

Vulnerable residents such as low-income and senior citizens would be forced to find their own broadband solutions, pay install fees and sign individual contracts. In addition, Rader underscored that bulk billing arrangements provide faster internet access at a lower price point than tenants would otherwise have if they bought the services separately. 

Rader insisted that a bulk billing ban would not provide more broadband options for apartment residents. Instead, Rader argues, a ban would result in large cable and phone companies consolidating power.  

“If bulk is banned, we would go back to a two-party solution with a big cable company and a big phone company,” Raider said, adding that this solution would ironically result in a status quo the FCC was “so eager” to avoid. 

Critics of bulk billing argue the practice restricts consumer options by eliminating their ability to choose a broadband option more aligned with their personal needs. 

For instance, Jenna Leventoff, formerly senior policy counsel at internet advocacy group Public Knowledge, argued in a Broadband Breakfast Live Online in October 2021 thatmore broadband options for tenants may incentivize providers to improve service.

Leventoff also posited that true broadband competition within apartment complexes will lower internet costs for tenants. Opponents of the practice also argue that tenants should not be forced to pay for cable, citing streaming as a cheaper and popular alternative.

The White House highlighted the proposal as part of a broader push to combat “corporate rip-offs” that “limit consumer choice by preventing tenants from choosing the services at the price point and level that are best for their needs, and can impose fees for unnecessary services and deter competition,” it said in a press release earlier this month. 

In January 2022, Rosenworcel proposed legislation to promote broadband competition for renters by banning service providers from entering into revenue sharing agreements with apartment complexes.