By Starchild, LPSF Outreach Director

FCC InternetBroadbandChoice

UPDATED NOV. 22 – A hearing on this issue has been scheduled for the November 30th, 10:00 a.m. Budget & Finance Committee hearing, Room 250, SF City Hall (see , item #12).

In a libertarian society where property ownership was not artificially priced out of reach of many people by government regulations and landlords and tenants stood on an equal footing, it would make sense to allow landlords to dictate any terms whatsoever to their tenants.

But in a world where development is heavily restricted, renting via services like AirBnB is subject to time limits and other restrictions, it is difficult or impossible to divide real estate parcels and sell them off piecemeal as smaller lots, and leases are typically offered to prospective tenants on a take-it-or-leave-it basis rather than being subject to negotiation between parties operating on a more or less equal footing, I believe most Libertarians would probably want some protections in place to guarantee the kind of rights that we would naturally tend to enjoy if property rights were upheld as they ought to be.

Imagine a situation in which a big grocery corporation like Safeway made a deal with landlords:  Prohibit delivery persons from other online grocery services entering your building, and in exchange we'll give you a lucrative kickback. Pure libertarianism holds that a property owner has an absolute right to control who comes onto his or her property, and thus would have every right to enter into such a deal with Safeway and enact rules binding tenants accordingly, so that they would have no ability to contract with competing grocery delivery services. But if we wish to maximize freedom and choice in the world we live in now, common sense suggests that we would not want to implement enforcement of that absolute right until other reforms have restored a more naturally level playing field no longer distorted by various government interventions.

The grocery example above is (as far as I know) hypothetical, but San Francisco is currently facing a similar situation regarding Internet service. According to local YIMBY activist Derek Slater, who works for Google Fiber, "cable and telephone companies have struck side-deals with many landlords to keep competition out of apartment buildings." Most commonly, they use kickbacks to landlords and other underhanded tactics to keep people on their services. The company estimates that this impacts hundreds of buildings and tens of thousands of apartment units.
Derek explains how this is hitting residents in the pocketbook, and is spreading the word about a legislative effort to remedy the situation:

"San Francisco's Board of Supervisors will soon be considering an ordinance that will expand apartment residents’ choices of Internet providers. This lack of choice impacts residents' pocketbooks. Studies show when a new superfast provider like Webpass comes to town, the cost of internet drops almost $30 per month. The proposed ordinance would let residents select the provider of their choice, while respecting landlords’ legitimate interests in their property. The cable industry already benefits from this sort of law in 17 states and many localities across the nation. The ordinance would update the law and level the competitive playing field among all providers."

You can sign a petition in support of this proposed ordinance to expand consumer choice and market competition here: