FCC OKs Continued Bulk Billing of Multiple Dwelling Units

Commission reserve right to change its mind if circumstances change
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The FCC says that cable operators and other multichannel video programming distributors may continue to bulk bill apartments and other multiple dwelling units (MDUs) and secure exclusive rights to target market their customers, but it also expressly reserved the right to change its mind down the road if circumstances warrant.

That came in a follow-up order Tuesday (March 2) to its original order banning exclusive contracts between building owners and MVPDs as unfair competition.

The FCC had sought comment in that original order about whether the prohibition should extend to bulk billing and marketing. But after mulling that comment, it concluded that bulk biling "predominantly benefit consumers, through
reduced rates and operational efficiencies." It also cited the advantage of "enhancing deployment of broadband," which is arguably the FCC's primary goal at the moment.

The FCC conceded that bulk billing could harm some consumers, subjecting them to "questionable prices, low quality, and slow innovation," but it concluded that it benefitted "far more" by significantly lowering prices.

As to marketing, the FCC said it would not prohibit targeted marketing deals because the record did not support some commenters arguments that they prevented other MVPDs from providing service to MDUs. Unlike the cost-benefit trade-off for bulk billing, the commission said it could find no "significant harms" in targeted marketing, while saying some of the benefits included making information about video services available to them.

That usually comes in the form of exclusive branding in common areas, on a building's Web site, brochures in welcome packs for new residents and door-to-door, or at least slipped-under-the-door-to door distribution of info.

But while the FCC said the practices are OK for now, it left some wiggle room. It said the decision was based on the current marketplace and evidence before it. "We may re-examine one or both of these practices in the years ahead to see if those effects have changed," the commission order concluded. "If, at that time, marketplace conditions and consumer effects appear markedly different, we will make appropriate changes in our regulations."