TCS Daily

The FCCs Bizarre Building Mandate

By Adam D. Thierer - October 2, 2000 12:00 AM

If you're keeping track of bizarre and needlessly intrusive regulations coming out of Washington, then here's a real doozy to add to your scrap book. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering a proposal which would require that owners of private buildings provide telecommunications companies "open access" to their multi-tenant residential units and office buildings. Put simply, under the FCC regulation, Beltway bureaucrats would force owners of private buildings to allow telephone and satellite companies to set their systems up in any building the wanted, even if the private owners did not want them to do so.

In one sense, I suppose it would be easy to sympathize with the FCC's cause. After all, some residential or business tenants who rent or own units in privately-held buildings might not have access to the complete range of communications technologies available to other households or businesses. This occurs for many reasons. Some building owners are reluctant to incur the costs associated with rewiring a building. Others don't like the eyesore of new dishes on their roof or wires strung throughout the building. And still others are simply slow to take steps to install new systems. Hence the logic of the FCC's order is simple: Open up those buildings and let companies give residential or business tenants access to communications options which they currently do not enjoy.

But such simpleton logic seems to fall under that category of: "Hi... We're from the government and we're here to help." Well thanks, but no thanks. It's hard enough to believe that regulators have our best interests in mind, but even if they do in this case, it does not justify such an intrusive regulatory solution.

Consider it from a different perspective. Imagine you're a building owner and one day a government bureaucrat knocks on your door and informs you that from now on, you must allow any company that wants to install a new communications system in your building to have free reign to do so. Moreover, the company will not be forced to compensate you on terms that you freely negotiate with them, rather, compensation will be determined by government fiat though price controls.

You probably would not be too happy with this arrangement, and with good reason. We live in a free country and that freedom includes the freedom of owners of private property to control their property as they see fit. In fact, building owners currently restrict many types of activities within their units, oftentimes at the request of their tenants. If my employer forbids me from smoking cigars in my office, or my condo association prohibits me from owning a dog, that may not make me happy, but that's tough luck. Should government regulators do something about this? Of course not.

Critics will say that communications systems are different because they are more important than other such trivial matters. But they're missing the larger point: The ends do not justify the means. Just because some building owners are slow to allow change or perhaps reluctant to open up their buildings at all, it does not mean that government bureaucrats have the right to demand they do so. Not only would it constitute a unconstitutional "taking" of private property if this proposal was implemented, but it would require a massively complex and intrusive regulatory apparatus to enforce. Imagine the FCC trying to regulate access to the millions of buildings in America. How many FCC bureaucrats will be on this job?

The good news on this front, however, is that building owners are taking steps to ensure new communications systems are installed in their units. The reason is simple: it's good business. A fully "wired" building is likely to attract more business or help building owners retail existing tenants.

Those businesses or households currently residing in buildings without such cutting-edge communications options can always voice complaints to the building owners and pressure them of invite new companies to come in and provide service. Building owners would be foolish to ignore such advice if they want to continue to attract or retain tenants. And even when building owners remain reluctant to open up their buildings and offer residents new communications options, there is a simple solution: residents can move!

That's the beauty of a free country. Private property owners are free to use their property as they see fit, and citizens are free to shop around for better arrangements when they're not getting the best deal possible. The alternative is just too disturbing to fathom: Government bureaucrats demanding that private property be surrendered for the public good. Funny, I thought socialism was a thing of the past.

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