U.S. government slated to take up thorny building access issue

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday is expected to take up the issue of telecommunications carrier access to buildings, one month after kicking the controversial “smart buildings” issue off its agenda.

Specifically, the FCC is expected to stake out its position in a steaming controversy brewing between office building owners across the country and new-breed carriers that want access to more buildings.

The FCC last month, at the request of one commissioner, had put off a vote on the issue.

“We are confident that at minimum we will get a positive first step,” said Jonathan Askin, general counsel for Washington-based Association for Local Telecommunications Services (ALTS).

ALTS represents emerging carriers, which are pushing on the FCC to weigh in and force building landlords to give new market entrants a chance to provide service alongside more entrenched carriers, many of which routinely sign exclusivity contracts with owners.

Real estate groups, however, vehemently oppose what they refer to as “forced access” to buildings. Formidable politicians have also weighed in, expressing concern over FCC intervention in deals between owners and carriers.

But ALTS and other members that make up the Smart Building Policy Project (SBPP) claim an unrelated, swiftly-moving bill – which would require government agencies to let more telecom providers vie for the privilege of wiring federal buildings – is a signal that Congress may make similar overtures in the private sector.

SBPP stood up Wednesday in support congressional passage of a measure to impose “nondiscriminatory telecommunications access” policies on federal buildings.

The measure was attached to a transportation spending bill that last week passed both houses of Congress and now awaits President Clinton’s signature.

SBPP, which says it represents competitive carriers, consumer groups and software providers, said the congressional move is a nod toward intervention in the marketplace.

Specifically, the group claims that by imposing the measure on federal agencies, Congress has acknowledged “that there are building access barriers to competition in the telecommunications marketplace,” SBPP said in a statement.