Good news for apartment dwellers: FCC slaps down exclusive cable TV deals.

The folks over at ArsTechnica have an entry up about a decision by the FCC to ban exclusivity deals between cable companies and apartment complexes:

If you’re one of the millions of Americans who lives in a multiunit dwelling (MDU), there’s a good chance that your rent or association fees pay for a TV service you may or may not want. Many such units are locked up in exclusive contracts that don’t allow condo owners to install, say, a Verizon FiOS fiber optic link instead of a Comcast connection.

Martin’s comments indicate that the FCC is serious about ending such contracts and may actually attempt to throw out current contracts before they expire. The very idea has cable operators incensed.

To consumers, the ability to choose sounds great, though in practice the choices available may be limited. The big backers of the change have been phone companies like AT&T;and Verizon, which (not coincidentally) have launched television services of their own. With nearly a quarter of Americans living in MDUs, missing out on this market could be a huge blow to telco expansion plans.

Despite worries that new FiOS and U-Verse installs might target only wealthy areas, several people I’ve spoken with on the issue say it’s really more about density. Costs for new fiber runs to less-dense housing can be astronomical, and MDUs are about the densest form of housing to be found. For companies struggling to justify massive capital expenditures on an entirely new business, being able to wire MDU residents could be a big boon.

Cable operators argue that such MDU contracts can actually lower rates by allowing people to pool their purchasing power and strike better deals, but as Martin told the Times, “Exclusive contracts have been one of the most significant barriers to competition.” He also claimed that cable rates have risen nearly 100 percent in the last 10 years.

Back when we were living in the apartment in Canton before I got laid off the first time we had briefly considered moving into a larger townhouse apartment in Canton that would’ve included a basement to give us a little more room. It was only slightly more expensive than the apartment we had already been renting and I was quite pleased with it until I found out that the complex had signed an exclusivity contract with Comcrap Comcast at which point I told the lady point blank I wouldn’t be able to move in on that basis alone. The apartment complex we were living in already had allowed both Comcast and Wide Open West to run cable through the buildings so when we got fed up with Comcast we were able to make the switch to WOW. Still being more than a little annoyed with Comcast at the time made that exclusivity a deal breaker for me and I think it’s the first time I’ve ever allowed a choice of cable company to determine where I lived.

So, needless to say, I think this is a great move on the part of the FCC though it remains to be seen if the cable companies will take this laying down. There are already rumbles in the industry of a potential court fight over it and I’m hoping that the FCC prevails. Canton has some of the better cable prices thanks to the competition and it’s something I love to see spread to more areas in Michigan.