Another step in the telecom forced-access debate The beginning of fall marked another round in the multifamily industry's fight against mandatory telecommunications access to commercial real estate properties. Late last month, the National Multi Housing Council (NMHC) and the National Apartment Association (NAA) submitted another filing to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) arguing why such a regulation is not needed. In short, the filing says forced access - telecommunications companies taking space within a building for the installation of equipment and wiring for free or at a low, government-established price - violates the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits the taking of private property without just compensation. The brief also asks the FCC to drop the matter immediately.

The filing was submitted on behalf of the Real Access Alliance, an 11-member organization to which the NMHC and the NAA belong that opposes forced access. The group also includes the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) and the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts (NAREIT). In August, the alliance submitted its first round of briefs opposing forced access. The second round is a procedural response to filings submitted by competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs) supporting the proposed regulation.

The latest brief says CLECs have not produced evidence justifying forced access and adds that CLECs admit they are rarely denied access to buildings.

The brief states, "Our system only regulates where there has been market failure, and all of the evidence indicates that there has been no such failure here. Property owners and managers routinely and frequently grant access to buildings, and telecommunications providers have agreed to the terms of access freely negotiated between the parties. The Commission has no basis for overturning those contracts or adopting rules designed to give CLECs the upper hand in negotiations."

NMHC/NAA vice president Jim Arbury says the alliance could be invited "within the next couple of months" to a series of formal meetings with FCC staff and commissioners to talk about forced access. When the FCC reaches a final decision about the matter is anybody's guess, according to Arbury.

"It could be a couple of months or it could be a couple of years," he says. "This is something they don't have to do anything on if they don't want to."