As one last bitter winter storm blew into Washington, D.C., the National Apartment Association kicked off its Capitol Conference at the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City.

The conference, held March 14-17, gave NAA members an opportunity to learn how to deal better with disasters and media members. It also gave Jim Arbury, vice president of the National Multi Housing Council and its joint legislative program with the NAA, a forum to update members on a topic all players in the multifamily housing market will confront. At at telecommunications panel, Arbury discussed FCC regulations regarding telecommunications, mandatory access and satellite dish/antenna placement.

"This isn't going to go away," Arbury says. "Every state legislature is going to bring this up because there's so much money at stake for the [telecommunications] providers, and they're pouring massive amounts of money into various political campaigns and PAC's. To them, it's about survival."

The FCC ruled in early 1998 that home renters do not have the right to put up a satellite dish without permission of the landlord or owner. Then on Nov. 20, 1998, Arbury says the FCC went back on its earlier precedent when it ruled that apartment renters could erect satellite dishes or stick-type antennae within the premises they lease.

NAA officials sensed property rights and mandatory access issues and filed a suit on Dec. 23, 1998 asking a federal court to review the FCC's Antenna Order on the grounds that the FCC exceeded its jurisdiction; the order violates the U.S. Constitution; and the order is arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion. The court is expected to take a year or longer to review the suit.

Meanwhile, the telecommunications industry already has begun its push for mandatory access in several states, Arbury says,citing Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Indiana, California, Nebraska, and Virginia as states to watch. To emphasize the point, Arbury introduced NAA delegates to Barbara Eubank, executive director of the Virginia Apartment and Management Association. Eubank detailed her group's battle to block legislation that would have granted mandatory access in Virginia to the industry.

"The telecommunications industry was telling us the bill would not grant mandatory access. They said, 'We're merely going to add telecommunications to the provision of the state law that prohibits accepting fees for access,'" Eubank says. "But I just didn't get a warm fuzzy about this, because it also became apparent that this telecommunications approach state-by-state is very well planned."

Together with the Virginia Apartment and Management Association, Eubank organized a group that successfully fought the Virginia General Assembly bill in its four incarnations.

"I got a copy of the bill and it says that discrimination against any providers is not allowed," Eubank says. "In theory, this meant anyone with a screwdriver could come into your building and you have absolutely no say so."

Eubank warned that the telecommunications industry plans to continue its fight for mandatory access in state legislatures in each state.