San Francisco Proposal Aims At Giving Multi-Tenants Access Choice Of ISPs

If San Francisco Board of Supervisor Mark Farrell gets his way, tenants in multiple-occupancy buildings will have a greater opportunity to choose their Internet Service Providers. 

In October, Farrell introduced a proposed ordinance that would require owners of multi-tenant residential and commercial properties to give building access to all state-licensed ISPs. 

Choice Effectively Denied 

Farrell’s proposal comes amidst reports of tenants denied access to ISPs of their choice.

According to a legislative digest of the proposed ordinance, property owners are not legally allowed to force tenants to sign up with one provider, but by limiting access their building to install fiber or antennas, they prevent their renters from choosing the provider they want:

"[M]any occupants of residential and commercial multiple occupancy buildings are unable to choose between service providers because their buildings property owners allow only one provider to install the facilities and equipment necessary to provide services to occupants..."

The San Francisco Chronicle reports: 

“The reality in San Francisco is that tens of thousands of residents have been denied access to different Internet service providers,” Farrell said. “I fundamentally believe competition is a good thing that will ultimately drive prices down and improve Internet access across all of San Francisco.”  

Charles Barr, founder of up and coming fixed wireless provider Webpass, said owners block their access to approximately 400 large apartment buildings in the city. Google Fiber recently acquired Webpass.

The Proposed Ordinance  

Farrell’s proposed ordinance would guarantee:

[t]he “right of occupants of residential multiple dwelling units and commercial office buildings (“multiple occupancy buildings”) to choose among providers of communications services by prohibiting property owners from either: (i) interfering with the choice of communications services providers by occupants; and/or (ii) denying communications services providers access to wiring within the building.” 

The proposal addresses the fact that state and federal laws prohibit providers from entering into exclusive agreements with property owners, but no similar laws directly prevent property owners from such agreements. To resolve the issue and promote competition, this ordinance makes use of the city and county of San Francisco police powers so tenants can more easily subscribe to providers of their choice.


Besides requiring that all licensed ISPs have access to offer their service in multi-tenant properties, the proposed ordinance would require “communications services providers to pay property owners just and reasonable compensation for access to their properties” and spells out when a property owner would be justified to refuse an ISP’s access request.  

Teeth In The Ordinance 

The proposed ordinance has some teeth behind it.  Disagreements about what is “just and reasonable” compensation could be resolved by the parties in court and property owners who wrongfully refuse access may be fined up to $500 a day. The proposal also calls for indemnifying, or reimbursing, property owners for damage to their property. 

Industry housing trade groups are opposing Farrell’s ordinance proposal while residents like Kevin Hsiung want the access to sign up with an ISP, such as Webpass, of their choice. This past April, Christopher talked with the Webpass'  top brass to learn about the challenges facing their rising ISP in San Francisco. Check out episode #197 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast for that conversation. 

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors sent Farrell’s proposal to its Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee for review and recommendation by Nov. 17.