What if you waited two weeks to write a column, and then nothing really happened, or something that was supposed to happen was delayed? Hopefully, by now, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has resolved - or is close to resolving - the forced building access rule.
At its mid-September meeting, the FCC removed the issue from the agenda at the request of one its commissioners. FCC Chairman William Kennard noted that all five commissioners committed to voting on the issue "on circulation" by the end of September. "On circulation" means that the commissioners can vote on the item without a public hearing. Since the FCC has been holding public hearings on the forced access issue for more than a year, voting on the matter "on circulation" is not as ominous sounding - at least from a journalist's perspective - as it might otherwise be. Any semblance of a closed meeting raises eyebrows in journalistic circles. FCC commissioners have probably had more than their fill on this matter by now.
The issue boils down to this: Should competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs) be allowed to enter any privately owned, multi-tenanted building to install wiring and other telecom equipment regardless of the owner's wishes?
How did we get here in the first place? From a number of angles, forced access doesn't seem to make much sense. I know logic is sometimes too much to ask for from the federal government, but a ruling allowing CLECs to basically do what they want, where they want, when they want obviously violates owners' Fifth Amendmentrights. Capitol Hill heavyweights such as U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.); Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), who represents Silicon Valley; and House Constitution Subcommittee Chairman Charles Canady (R-Fla.) have all weighed in on the issue with letters to Kennard that side with commercial real estate.
Plus, any owner with a shred of sense will want to maintain a competitive advantage with buildings enabled with the latest technology. Still, owners want to do it in an open market and not have technology that they may not want or need forced down their throats. Also, a ruling aligned with the interests of commercial real estate is not tantamount to throwing orphans - or telecommunications companies in this case - out into the street. These guys have flourished for the past few years.
Telecoms and property owners have been negotiating access contracts for years. To allow forced access would create an avalanche of litigation and new regulations that would bog down both commercial real estate and the telecommunications companies. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 intended to heighten competition, not place telecommunications and real estate in a quagmire for the next decade. The only winner in this situation would be trial lawyers. Did I just say that?
This month: These days, it seems a bit trite to call something a team effort - you hear it too much from too many people who don't really mean it - but this edition of RETech truly is. Each member of NREI's editorial staff, as well as Art Director Scott Upton, made immensely valuable contributions. Some of them, such as Associate Editor David Heaton's Q&A with Storetrax.com CEO Rob Rosenfeld, are readily apparent, but the behind the scenes work of our two Steves - Webb and Ursery - really brought this issue of RETech together. Contributing editors Randy Southerland and Collette McKenna provide a one-two punch with stories on redevelopment for high-tech use and the Internet's effect on commercial, both extremely hot topics in the industry.
RETech debuted in February, and each issue improves upon the last. Look for even more in December and in 2001.