Telecom Options for Co-ops and Condos Wiring Your Building

Telecom Options for Co-ops and Condos

 It’s been a long time since cable modems were the gold standard in Internet  connectivity—or at least it seems like it’s been a long time. Telecommunications as a field has been developing at a  dizzying pace, and multifamily buildings—both new developments and existing properties—face the challenge of providing residents with fast, reliable, Wi-Fi and other  telecom-related services.  

 Like a good restaurant, the telecommunications menu is filled with a variety of  choices. What management chooses for the building, or what residents choose for  their own units, depends on a variety of factors, including the location of the  building, pricing of the packaging, special features, etc.  

 For example, the menu consists first of several big players including Time  Warner Cable, RCN, Verizon, Cablevision, and companies such as Natural Wireless  and DirecTV, but they all cover a variety of areas.  

 For example, RCN’s network extends to the Upper West, Upper East, Lower West and Lower East sides  of Manhattan, most of Queens and is select Brooklyn neighborhoods. According to  Verizon FiOS, they have services available throughout New York City. Cablevision covers all of the Bronx, two-thirds of Brooklyn, northern New  Jersey, Westchester and Fairfield counties and Long Island. They do not have  service in Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, and the remaining one-third of  Brooklyn.  

 Time Warner Cable, Cablevision and RCN offer their own TV and Internet services  over their cable infrastructure, but it’s based on isolated areas of their specific agreements. According to Bobby  Amirshahi, vice president of communications for Time Warner Cable's New York  City operations, "We have a dedicated team serving co-op and condo buildings  throughout New York and New Jersey. We provide customized packages of TV,  Internet, and phone for buildings with 100 to 150 residential units, and can  offer bulk pricing for as few as 25 to 40 units."  

 In the mid-1990s we installed wire throughout New Jersey and New York," says  Michael Stevens, Time Warner Cable's Director of New Market Development. "We  cover most of the Manhattan franchise and Western Brooklyn. In New Jersey, we  service 14 municipalities; 13 in Bergen County and one in Hudson County. We  also service 90 percent of Queens and all of Staten Island. Each building has  its own needs. You can pick and choose the services that residents want."  

 So now that you have the big menu choices, here’s where it gets a little complicated. Each menu choice is broken down into  smaller menu choices. Say, for example, you wanted a beef dish—well do you want roast beef, beef stroganoff, steak, etc.? Each company offers  something different and now it’s a matter of what you’re looking for. Do you want television, Internet capabilities, telephone or a  combination. Some buildings only use one provider, while other buildings offer  the resident their choice of what provider they want to use.  

 “In most of our buildings that we currently service, we co-exist with another  provider or we stand alone,” says Ben Topor, vice president of multi-dwelling unit sales and retention of  Cablevision. “The residents are free to choose with the choices that are out there but the  other half of that is that Cablevision offers a bulk rate program. It’s a shared savings approach to a multi-dwelling unit, where we contract with the  co-op board and provide a building-wide discount. Residents can upgrade above  and beyond that, but we sign a contract for a certain number of years.”  

 Today, most co-ops are offering residents TV and Internet through traditional  providers. Additional packages that are offered as an amenity will depend based  on the individual property owner or manager and arrangements they have with  their tenants and service provider.  

 “Verizon FiOS is laser-generated pulses of light delivered over hair-thin strands  of fiber-optics that delivers Internet, TV, and phone services across this  infrastructure,” says Mike Weston, director of product management for Verizon Enhanced  Communities in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. “Residents are able to bundle and customize service offerings for Internet, TV  and phone services.”  

 New Versus Existing Buildings

 While it’s easier to add Internet, phone and television service right into the building  during the construction phase, retrofitting an older building is a little  harder to do.  

 “New construction developers will embed cabling and infrastructure into its walls  as the structure is built but retrofitting a building involves leveraging  existing infrastructure (i.e. existing moldings, drop ceilings in hallways) to  route and conceal the fiber optic cabling from service stairwells into the  resident’s apartment,” says Weston. “Alternatively, flexible molding systems have also been developed to route and  blend the fiber cables into wall seams and beneath existing moldings. The  entire process of wiring a building typically takes four to six weeks.”  

 Natural Wireless says the time and effort to add the service in a new  construction or as retrofit is about the same. “In both cases, we need to run vertical CAT5/fiber and hide the Wi-Fi  transmitters so all wires and equipment are hidden,” says Dror Schuchman of Natural Wireless in River Vale, New Jersey. “We install our services in some very luxury properties and our installation  meets the highest aesthetic requirements.”  

 The installation of the Natural Wireless network, for example, is typically in  the hidden areas of the property and no access to apartments is required. “Since tenants connect via a wireless connection, it is not necessary for “wiring runs” to be placed in each apartment,” says Schuchman. “In most cases, only several wireless radios need to be extended to each floor,  minimizing disruptions to tenants during the installation of the wireless  system.”  

 Topor says that Cablevision uses the new construction phase to reach out to new  customers. “We start with the ground up and work with the general contractor to figure out  the wiring needs,” he says.  

 In an article written by Rob Neumann, general counsel and vice president for  Access Media3, Inc., he says that an interesting issue in this industry lately  has been companies that are attempting to establish a monopoly by asserting  some kind of control or agreement. “Minnesota is one of 18 states with a mandatory access law that requires a  building owner to grant a right of entry to a service provider that wants to  offer their product to residents,” he writes. “In Minnesota, the cable communications system that installed the equipment must  also allow alternative providers to use the equipment if some of the MDU  residents choose to subscribe to the services of an alternative provider.”  

 New Menu of Items

 Like any good restaurant, businesses offer new items every now and then for  their customers. In the communications world, there seems to be new items or  advances almost every day. According to Weston, as both wireless and wired-line  technologies advance, consumers will begin to see the convergence of wireless  devices within the home.  

 “For example, Verizon will market a Home Monitoring and Control platform that  works with Verizon FiOS,” he says. It’s a combination of devices and online services that let users control and  monitor lighting, energy, door locks and web cameras using a computer, tablet,  cell phone, or smart-phone.  

 According to Amirshahi, Time Warner Cable has a similar offering that is  available in other parts of the country. “Another new innovation is Time Warner Cable’s IntelligentHome. It’s a home management system where you can remotely control the temperature in  your own home, monitor your security cameras, even disable the alarm. It’s a package of services that target the home consumer. You can personalize the  settings to your preferences—whether you want to unlock the doors when the kids get home from school, or  check in on the family pet via live video.”  

 Time Warner Cable has not yet announced when this service may become available  in New York City.  

 The Why of Wi-Fi

 Schuchman says that shareholders and board members looking to enhance their  property need to look at two major trends in the Wi-Fi market. “First, wireless technology has already been integrated into a wide range of home  electronics (even TVs have wireless Internet capability built in) increasing  the demand for a high quality, managed Wi-Fi network. Second, Smart Wi-Fi architectures allow secured and faster Internet connection for all applications.  

 Additionally, Schuchman says that residents demand high-tech amenities such as  building-wide wireless Internet access. “Shareholders and board members are interested in setting their properties apart  with a building-wide Wi-Fi technological amenity as a unique selling  proposition to their residents,” he says.  

 Another new amenity might look a little familiar with those who stay in hotels  and have tuned into hotel channels. “We offer 1 or 2 channels to use as an information upload channel,” says Topor. “There’s one way communication that can also be used as a live camera feed. There is a  dedicated channel to see who’s coming and going through the building.”  

 Cablevision says they are also spending $300 million to create an outdoor Wi-Fi  network. “We extended it so that it can also be used in some building lobbies,” says Topor. “We don’t go into apartments, but park settings, courtyards, outdoor pool areas, we’ll bring it out there. Summer time you can have shareholders, experiencing  outside Wi-Fi. It’s almost hotel style.”  

 Telecom firms are also pooling their resources to reach more people with more  services. "We are working to deploy Wi-Fi hotspots in some of the parks around the city in the four boroughs we serve over  the next 12 to 18 months,” says Amirshahi. "After we activate each hotspot, Internet customers of Comcast  or Cablevision also can sign onto the network at no charge. Conversely, if you  are a Time Warner Cable subscriber and you travel on the LIRR, and are going to  the beaches in the summertime, for example, you can get free Wi-Fi . You just  have to put in your email and your password, and you can connect.” Non customers will get up to three free 10 minute sessions of access per Wi-Fi  -enabled device or they can purchase a full day access pass for 99 cents,  according to Amirshahi.  

 According to Schuchman, the main legal liability/concern that buildings who  offer free Wi-Fi in public areas have is the Communications Assistance for Law  Enforcement Act (CALEA) compliance.  

 “This law requires public Wi-Fi providers to monitor and record transactions and have  them available for the FBI and other law enforcement agencies,” he says. “An increasing number of buildings are looking for Natural Wireless to provide  service on their property that is CALEA-compliant. If a building offers an open  hot spot, the building is liable to be held compliant for CALEA. Anyone who  provides a service is covered under CALEA for profit or not. The FCC can fine  properties $10,000 a day for not being CALEA-compliant.”  

 So many choices, so many changes happening today and tomorrow. The most  important thing to do is to see what your building currently offers you or  decide if you want to select from another menu.     

 Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The Cooperator.

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  • Now, in apartment complexes, residents are often mandated to pay $40. for cable even if they do not want it in order to rent in the complex. This is a growing problem, initiated by Time Warner Cable and continuing to be a problem. It appears they have eliminated any competition in their contracts with apt owners as you can see in the MAAvsFCC suit which highlights the issue with apt tenants being so upset about the mandate, dictate, or whatever you want to call it.
  • verizon is using my building's lobby to sell its services with the approval of the board. Isn't this against zoning regulations? I am adverse to walking into a lobby where vendors are selling items. Is there any legal recourse? Is this consistent with zoning regulations?