Coalition Formed To Push FCC on Building Access

WASHINGTON (06/21/2000) - Companies offering fixed wireless and other telecommunications services have renewed their criticism of office building owners who restrict access to rooftops and other parts of buildings, and have vowed to continue their push to have the problem rectified through regulation.

A group of 22 CLECs (competitive local exchange carriers), telecommunications associations and companies offering wireless telephone service announced the formation of a coalition devoted to eliminating barriers to building access at a news conference on Wednesday.

The Smart Buildings Policy Project hopes to convince the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that it should require building owners to provide reasonable and nondiscriminatory access to rooftops and wiring conduit inside multitenant buildings. The project lists AT&T Corp., Alcatel SA, the Information Technology Association of America, Lucent Technologies Inc., Siemens AG, Teligent Inc., Winstar Communications Inc. and the Wireless Communications Association among its members.

"These owners are denying millions of potential customers the opportunity to take advantage of broadband and wireless capabilities," said H. Russell Frisby Jr., president of the Competitive Telecommunications Association (CompTel) and also a member of the Smart Buildings Policy Project. "This is wrong. We need the federal government and regulators to support us by adopting rules that support nondiscriminatory access."

The debate over building access goes back years, but began to crystalize recently after the FCC solicited comment from the industry and other interested parties on the proposed rule. The commission is now drafting an order that could be voted on as early as the first week of August, said John D. Windhausen Jr., president of the Association for Local Telecommunication Services (ALTS), which is spearheading the Smart Buildings Policy Project.

Less than 5 percent of the more than 760,000 buildings across the country have negotiated access agreements with providers, according to Windhausen, who spoke at the news conference. Some building owners refuse to grant access, while others decline because they already have exclusive deals with other telephone companies.

Carriers also have been frustrated by building owners who want high fees for access, which makes it all but impossible for the provider to offer service, even where tenants have asked for it, Windhausen said. The carriers are willing to pay reasonable fees and costs related to gaining access to rooftops and the ducts that already hold telecommunications wiring, Windhausen said, but he stressed that companies want equal treatment from the owners.

He acknowledged that even under the difficult circumstances, the CLECs have managed to build their networks, but he said a large part of the market remains unserved, and building owners are stymying competition that was supposed to occur under the U.S. Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Windhausen also said that the Smart Building Policy Project would continue lobbying in support of legislation that would mandate building access, including a bill that would require the federal government, which rents thousands of offices across the country, to sign leases only with landlords and owners who provide equal access.

Building owners represented by the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) oppose an FCC rule to require open access, said Gerry Lederer, vice president of government and industry affairs for BOMA. A year ago, opponents created the Real Access Alliance, which contends that carriers and telecommunications associations are advocating "forced access."

Lederer said the Smart Building Policy Project apparently hopes to "light a fire under the commission," which he said already has indicated the order is unlikely to win approval. At least two members of the five-member commission have questioned the need and the constitutionality of the order, he said.

"It's interesting that we continue to hear these claims of access being denied and claims of relationships between incumbent (carriers) and buildings, but no documents," Lederer said in a telephone interview.

A survey of building owners supports BOMA's claim that owners are not trying to charge exorbitant fees for access, Lederer said. The survey showed that revenue from the space rented to telecommunications companies averages only 11 cents per square foot compared with US$21 of revenue per square foot of office space.

"What these guys would have you believe is that building owners are going to jeopardize $21 for 11 cents," Lederer said. "At the end of the day what's most important for building owners is that tenants are satisfied."

The coalitions efforts are an attempt by highly profitable telecommunications companies to get the U.S. government to give them an advantage over other providers that have successfully negotiated for access, Roger Platt, spokesman for Real Access Alliance, said in a news release.

The tremendous success of ALTS members in obtaining building access undercuts their argument that government-mandated rights of entry are necessary, Platt said.

The Smart Building Policy Project can be found on the Web at http://www.buildingconnections.org/. The Association for Local Telecommunications Services can be reached at +1-202-408-2582 or found on the Web at http://www.alts.org/. The Real Access Alliance can be found on the Web at http://www.realaccess.org/.

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More about Alcatel-LucentAT&TCompetitive Telecommunications AssociationComptelFCCFederal Communications CommissionLucentLucent TechnologiesOpen AccessSiemensTelephone ServiceTeligentWinstar Communications

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