High-speed internet is now a cornerstone of modern life. It not only shapes how we connect and interact with one another, but has also become critical for online learning, employment, ecommerce, and more. President Biden has helped lead the effort to get more Americans affordable internet access, signing into law legislation that expands broadband infrastructure, as well as creating a broadband affordability program for low-income Americans called the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which over a quarter of a million Coloradans are currently benefiting from.  


Given the impressive federal efforts that have been undertaken over the past few years to close the digital divide, I was puzzled when I saw the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) recent proposal to ban bulk billing agreements for high-speed internet – agreements that have helped lower broadband costs for millions of Americans. It is unfortunate that low income communities are still being challenged with new forms of redlining, reducing accessibility to information that is now deemed critical for community growth and success.

Bulk billing agreements are communal arrangements between internet providers and multi-tenant living communities like homeowners associations (HOAs) and affordable housing complexes. For a drastically reduced rate, sometimes up to half of what tenants and residents would pay on an individualized price structure, internet providers contract with these communities and provide service to all of the residents living in them. 

I understand the rationale behind the FCC’s proposal and there’s good intent behind it. Some unscrupulous apartment complex owners exploit bulk billing by hitting tenants with hidden fees and charging extra to make a profit. Getting rid of this exploitation is justified and the FCC should do so. But for every apartment complex owner that does this, there are millions more Americans who benefit from the savings that come with these agreements, which is why it doesn’t make sense to issue a blanket ban on the entire practice altogether. As a small business owner, I have built my career thus far in the real estate industry and have had a firsthand glimpse into this issue.

Americans living in homeowners associations (HOAs) or condominium owners associations (COAs) serve as just one example of who will be inadvertently harmed by an overly broad ban of bulk billing. Over 75 million Americans live in these organizations, including about 2.35 million Coloradans (about 40% of our state’s population). In HOAs and COAs, it is property owners who live in the community and belong to the HOA or COA that take part in the bulk billing negotiation process. They negotiate with providers who compete for their business to secure the best, most consumer-friendly deal possible for everyone living in their community, including themselves. Stripping away their ability to leverage bulk billing will only lead to higher internet prices for everyone in their community, with no apparent benefit for these communities resulting from this at all. 

There are also severe negative effects on broadband affordability for low-income populations that could result from a blanket ban of bulk billing as well. Some local governments and housing authorities in places across the country have relied on bulk billing to provide broadband connectivity to affordable housing residents at low or no cost. These aren’t bad actors that are abusing the practice to make a profit, they’re genuinely trying to help residents who might otherwise be disconnected from all of the essential services that a broadband connection brings. With our nation’s primary broadband affordability program, the ACP, unfortunately likely to expire in the coming weeks, these types of locally-led efforts for low-income residents will become all the more critical. Eliminating bulk billing will make them financially unfeasible. 

The FCC’s proposal runs in stark contrast to all the great work the Biden Administration has done to make broadband more accessible for millions of Americans. While there’s noble intent behind the proposal, it’s clear its scope is far too broad and its negative effects will far outweigh any good that results from this ban. That’s why I urge the FCC to consider more pinpointed ways to hold bad actors accountable without hurting the countless communities that benefit from bulk billing. 

Chris Russell is an Air Force Veteran and current Councilman for the City of Thornton, CO. His profession as a Realtor and small business owner aid his ability to keep a pulse on community needs. He runs a small investment company with a focus on helping people create generational wealth through residential real estate investing.