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The FCC’s Confusing Attempt to Change a San Francisco Law

The city found a novel way to give residents access to more broadband internet providers. Federal regulators just partly blocked it, but it’s not clear how.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said part of San Francisco's law was inconsistent with federal policy.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said part of San Francisco's law was inconsistent with federal policy.Jacquelyn Martin/AP

In 2016, San Francisco passed a first-of-its-kind law giving tenants the right to choose their internet provider where they live. The law takes aim at apartment and condo buildings, telling landlords they can no longer strike deals with internet companies that block competitors from serving a building. In theory, if a certified internet provider wants to operate in a building, it just needs a tenant to request its services.

The law has been championed by digital rights groups as a way to give customers options in an industry that’s famously dominated by a few large companies like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast. As cities across the country have worked to boost broadband competition, San Francisco’s law—known as Article 52 or the “Occupant’s Right to Choose a Communications Services Provider”—has stood out as a novel way to help small and upstart providers compete with the dominant players in the field.