New Law Will Help Preserve Net Neutrality and Privacy at the Local Level

San Francisco EFFers: you did it! Thanks in part to your phone calls and tweets to the Board of Supervisors, the Board unanimously passed an ordinance last night that will address the problem of landlords unfairly restricting their tenants’ choice of Internet service providers.

Under the ordinance, landlords of multi-unit buildings (four units or more) will be required to honor reasonable requests to allow service by any state-accredited ISP a tenant chooses.

The ordinance was first scheduled for a vote at last week’s Board meeting, but it was delayed over a private memo that the City Attorney’s office had sent to the Board. At yesterday’s meeting (PDF), the Board went into a private session to discuss risks of litigation that might result from the measure. We don’t know exactly what came up in the private session, but we’ll be watching closely to see if major landlords and entrenched ISPs attempt to threaten the city over the ordinance.

As we mentioned when we first notified our San Francisco members of the proposed ordinance, local measures like this could become increasingly important if net neutrality supporters’ worst fears about the new administration come to fruition. In absence of rules protecting users, fair competition can go a long way to deter practices like site blocking and censorship. If the FCC’s Open Internet Order doesn’t survive the transition—or if it simply goes unenforced—then one way that cities can help mitigate the damage is through local laws like this one. Similarly, if the FCC fails to adequately protect Internet users’ privacy, then subscribers will be able to choose ISPs that stand up for their rights.

Unfortunately, measures like this wouldn’t work in every city as well as in San Francisco. San Francisco has one of the most competitive ISP markets in the United States, including players that have committed to defending their users’ privacy. In many U.S. cities, that’s not the case.

We hope to see cities and towns across the country step up to protect competition as San Francisco has done, and foster new competitive options by investing in citywide fiber-optic networks and opening that infrastructure to private ISPs.