Opinion: Berkeley tenants need the right to choose their internet carrier

Currently, landlords can deny tenants the right to choose the communications service provider that they want. The City Council may change that.

If there’s anything that this year of COVID 19 has shown us, it’s that the internet has arrived as an essential function of daily life. Berkeley residents rely on the Internet for communication, commerce, work, education, health, entertainment, and social good. Now that robust internet is critical for daily living, full access to the most up-to-date Internet access is not just a preference, but a necessity.

As dependence on the internet grows, so do the demands for internet bandwidth. Services like video conferencing, data transfer, and content streaming, increasingly require affordable, high-speed Internet access.

Currently, in Berkeley, landlords can deny tenants the right to choose the communications service provider that they require for daily work and living. Tenants must obtain the approval of their landlord to install the Internet Service Provider (ISP) of their choice. If this access is denied, it can cut them off from an essential lifeline to many facets of daily 21st-century life.

I know this because it happened to me. When COVID hit, I suspended use of my business office, and I needed to equip my home office with sufficient broadband to perform my daily job functions and to take on a new opportunity to edit my first TV series for Netflix in a career pivot from technology services into entertainment. My landlord refused to permit the installation of Sonic, the only provider that could deliver the bandwidth without the data caps I need. Sonic requires permission from a landlord before they install service, and my landlord would not give permission. This was even after Sonic offered assurance that it would require no modification to the building, and they could use the existing cable conduit that already exists.


Without access to sufficient service, I had to reject the Netflix job because I could not perform my necessary functions with my existing communications provider, Comcast. I had nurtured this opportunity for many months, and I don’t know that I will ever get an opportunity like that again.

Not only has this interference had a significant negative short-term financial impact on my income and revenue, it’s set back the growth of my career and business for potentially many years to come. To add insult to injury, my current provider is more expensive than Sonic, which has the actual service that I need.

Choice of a communications service provider is not just about tenant rights, it’s also about the city of Berkeley’s future social and economic development. Choice of communications provider will enable low-income citizens to choose a better, more affordable service that gives them equal access to work, school, and family and friends. As a developing hub for technology and innovation in business, research, and education, it will help attract top talent to the city. Enabling remote workers means more discretionary spending will stay in Berkeley, and reduce carbon emissions due to commuting.

Thankfully, my district council member and the vice mayor, Lori Droste, has drafted a recommendation to the Berkeley City Council that gives every citizen of Berkeley the right to choose their own communications provider. The recommendation prevents landlords from interfering with their choice of communications service that is sufficient, affordable and meets their needs.

Lori will be presenting this referral for a vote by the Berkeley City Council meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 9. If you’re interested in maximizing the public interest by providing tenants more choice of communications services providers, please contact your local city councilmember, and urge them to vote yes on this referral.

John Holland, a partner in a technical services company based in Berkeley, has been a resident of Berkeley for 26 years. He lives with his wife and daughter.