The choice between AT&T and Comcast being little choice at all, Supervisor Mark Farrell plans to introduce legislation today that would ensure all San Franciscans access to Monkeybrains/Webpass/what have you. Though federal law dictates your landlord can't prohibit you from signing up with any particular provider for TV, cable, or phone access, laws currently allow property owners to enter into revenue-sharing agreements with certain companies, a practice the Chronicle describes as common in large new rental buildings.
"There is no reason tenants should be limited in their choice of Internet service providers," Farrell wrote in a Facebook post explaining his position. "We all have a vested interest in local laws which increase competition and ultimately deliver the highest quality Internet service at the lowest cost." Farrell describes his effort as "a first-ever San Francisco law that guarantees tenants the right to pick their Internet service provider in all multi-unit buildings across San Francisco."
Although a landlord can't keep you from signing up with any provider you choose, they can keep that provider from performing an installation, and it sounds like they habitually do. Webpass founder Charles Barr, whose company was acquired by Google Fiber in June, says 400 large apartment buildings in SF have denied Webpass property access. “Some don’t want fiber in the building or don’t want a radio in the building or don’t want anybody other than AT&T to come in,” he told the Chronicle. Barr added that big apartments often insist that companies like Webpass pay building owners a fee per subscriber in the building. Webpass won't, and Farrell's legislation wouldn't let them, or anyone for that matter.
San Francisco Apartment Association government and community affairs manager Charley Goss expressed opposition to Farrell's stance. "There is federal law that already governs all of this. We would prefer the city enforce that law rather than write new laws,” Goss told the Chronicle. "We are the highest-regulated industry in San Francisco and one of the highest in California," he added of the plight of landlords, “And it kind of gets to a point where enough is enough.”