Oakland residents shared the stories of their personal experience; a broad coalition of advocates, civil society organizations, and local internet service providers (ISPs) lifted their voices; and now the Oakland City Council has unanimously passed Oakland’s Communications Service Provider Choice Ordinance. The newly minted law frees Oakland renters from being constrained to their landlord’s preferred ISP by prohibiting owners of multiple occupancy buildings from interfering with an occupant’s ability to receive service from the communications provider of their choice.
Across the country—through elaborate kickback schemes—large, corporate ISPs looking to lock out competition have manipulated landlords into denying their tenants the right to choose the internet provider that best meets their family’s needs and values. In August of 2018, an Oakland-based EFF supporter emailed us asking what would need to be done to empower residents with the choice they were being denied. Finally, after three years of community engagement and coalition building, that question has been answered.
Modeled on a San Francisco law adopted in 2016, Oakland’s new Communications Choice ordinance requires property owners of multiple occupancy buildings to provide reasonable access to any qualified communication provider that has received a service request from a building occupant. San Francisco’s law has already proven effective. There, one competitive local ISP, which had previously been locked out of properties of forty or more units with active revenue sharing agreements, gained access to more than 1800 new units by 2020. Even for those who choose to stay with their existing provider, a competitive communications market benefits all residents by incentivizing providers to offer the best services at the lowest prices. As Tracy Rosenberg, the Executive Director of coalition member Media Alliance—and a leader in the advocacy effort—notes, “residents can use the most affordable and reliable services available, alternative ISP’s can get footholds in new areas and maximize competitive benefits, and consumers can vote with their pockets for platform neutrality, privacy protections, and political contributions that align with their values.”
Unfortunately, not every city is as prepared to take advantage of such measures as San Francisco and Oakland. The Bay Area has one of the most competitive ISP markets in the United States, including smaller ISPs committed to defending net neutrality and their users’ privacy. In many U.S. cities, that’s not the case.
We hope to see cities and towns across the country step up to protect competition and foster new competitive options by investing in citywide fiber-optic networks and opening that infrastructure to private ISPs.