As more and more of our daily lives become more intertwined with online entertainment and services, internet access has become a home utility along with electricity and running water. Boards can take for granted that every resident in their building or community association wants reliable, fast internet service, and while many communities leave the selection of service providers to individual owners, others – especially those with shared community spaces in which people expect wireless access – have to decide as a board which available provider is right for their association.
New England Condominium spoke with representatives of several major telecom providers to discuss what's currently available for associations – as well as with a property management professional to talk about his client communities' dealings with these increasingly essential service providers.
Perry Wasserbauer, Market Development Manager at netBlazr, a Boston-based broadband provider
New England Condominium: What can you tell us about bulk package deals for community associations and multifamily properties?
PW: “A bulk deal takes the idea that we all need internet, whether that includes cable or (more rarely) phone... but you take the basic premise that everyone in the community wants and needs internet, and that if they band together and go all-in with a specific provider, they can get a reduced rate. Here at netBlazr, if you want to do a bulk deal, we'd typically reduce our rate by 45-50 percent. So if you have 100 units, instead of paying $6,000, you'd probably pay around $3,500. And we're different from some of the major telecoms, as we don't believe in contracts. The idea for us is that if you're unhappy with our service, you should be able to leave.”
Are bulk packages catching on?
“Boston isn't necessarily a bulk market, and I'm not even sure whether New York is. But Chicago is definitely a bulk market; they're all about it there. I think you're going to see this a lot more in urban areas where you do have competition – which is key in all of this – because you can find really good rates. It can be frustrating if you're an association outside of a city where you have limited options. You might be able to find providers in the suburbs who will do a multifamily bulk build-out or something of that nature, and those are typically more local independent companies – but it's touch and go.”
What's the market like for cable service these days?
“It's less of a utility, but it depends on the demographics. Even older demos have shifted somewhat toward Netflix and Hulu [rather than traditional cable TV]. There's a lot of competition in the subscription service market. Hulu or YouTube TV, Google... some of these offer 40-50 channels live online and are all really cool. With an AppleTV or Roku, you plug it in, you have a streaming app and you're good to go. You have individual profiles set up for everyone in your household, with all of your favorites and your recorded shows, etc. There's a lot that you can do solely with internet service without that older cable setup.”
What happens when the majority of an association desires a bulk package, but there are adamant holdouts who insist on sticking with cable?
“The bulk deals are for the entirety of the building. And individual units have the option to go through another provider, but the primary cost is for the whole building. Sometimes not everyone will want to be involved, but that shouldn't necessarily stop the entire process. Some people just don't like change. I've been to plenty of condo board meetings and seen some horror scenarios, but I've also seen great, highly-functional associations. It's all about different people and different personalities. Most people—especially in a condo building where they have one of the major providers and a triple-play phone/internet/cable package—the rate at which they started that service likely does not exist anymore, and that package is not even currently available. So you can save a lot for everyone in the building with a more streamlined bulk package catering to their current interests and usage.”
Rafael Visbal, Regional Vice President of Commercial Development at Comcast's Hollywood, Florida offices
New England Condominium: What does [Comcast subsidiary] Xfinity offer community associations that's unique when compared to products and services for single-family homes or multifamily rentals?
RV: “Let me start with the big picture. Condos, gated communities, what have you.... it's a large part of our footprint across the country. We know that multifamily is a very competitive area today, and created Xfinity Communities a few years ago as a specific team to address this. Over the last few years, we've transformed our service for HOAs, improving customer service, investing in better network and entertainment solutions... and we launched our X1 entertainment platform, which allows you take your content anywhere and enjoy it anytime from any device.”
So I could finish the movie I started last night in my apartment on the subway the next morning via my phone?
What does your company offer in terms of bulk packaging?
“It's one of the segments we service, wherein an association has selected a single provider and has decided to enter into a multi-year 'wholesale' agreement, where they want to provide video, or video/internet, or a specific array of equipment, etc., to the property for the term of that agreement. It's a segment we serve very well, and we have specific geographical areas within our footprint in Florida where it's embraced more than others. In West Palm Beach and Southwest Florida in general, bulk is a very large component of our business.
“If the HOA documents permit it, and there's political will to do something as a community, we can definitely bring together what is generally a very customized solution. We figure that out property to property. And this creates a very stable predictable model of pricing and service throughout the term of the agreement for that property, which is something a little different than we'd provide for a retail environment.”
Are people increasingly expecting Wi-Fi in common areas?
“It started a few years ago, but there's a higher level of sophistication in regard to amenities and common areas, whether it's a pet-friendly space or gym or theater areas, these are becoming almost the norm. And when we design technology solutions for these properties, we definitely have to consider these specific needs and wants, and we can service specific needs in regard to Wi-Fi, video outlets, whatever the property requires.
“And it's not just video and internet nowadays; we're talking home automation, sensors, security... it's almost a game of one-upmanship at this point where every new development is trying to do something more sophisticated than their competition.
“It's also about customization; everyone wants to personalize their Wi-Fi experience. Creating profiles for various devices, controlling which are connected to your network at a given time, receiving security alerts...when I get home today, for example, I'll pause my Wi-Fi so we can unplug over dinner with my kid. I have all the devices on a specific profile such that on weeknights at 11, it all goes down.”
Michael Weston, Senior Executive at Verizon Enhanced Communities in New York City
New England Condominium : Are there telecom packages that can lead to savings for a multifamily property that commits to a building-wide installation from a single service provider?
MW: “Yes. Verizon offers the opportunity for multifamily property owners to make our internet and TV a part of what it means to live in their community. By purchasing on behalf of all residents, owners ensure the fastest internet and best picture quality TV for every resident at significant discounts. And residents can still have the ability to customize their internet speed, TV content and other services just the way they want them.”
What do multifamily homes typically seek in regard to cable/internet/entertainment for common areas, where that's relevant?
“For most multifamily operators, providing entertainment and fast internet connectivity in their amenity areas is important today. Those spaces serve as a natural extension of living spaces in today's modern buildings, and residents expect to be connected and entertained. Verizon can help with the right TV service package in those areas. We can also help set up fast wifi services in those common areas to keep residents and staff connected and happy.”
Are there any difficulties unique to installing or servicing internet/cable in multifamily properties?
“We use a staff of professional engineers to design a custom all-fiber network deployment for each building that leverages the architecture of the building to reach all residents. From there, our team of professional technicians do white-glove installations in each unit for the residents. Through the use of innovative materials like nearly invisible fiber systems, we install services in all types of apartment buildings with a range of solutions that please even the most exacting residents.”
Dan Haumann, President of Advocate Property Management in Naperville, Illinois
New England Condominium: How would you describe your dealings thus far with telecom providers in regard to community association properties?
DH: “Clubhouses provide multimedia services to club members, and require our dealing with telecom companies more so than we would in a condo without a clubhouse. In condos, it really boils down to working with companies like Xfinity and others that will put a contract in place for the association to have that company be the primary provider of services within the facility, and the condo might see some money from that contract.”
As in a bulk packaging deal?
“The association might get some compensation, depending on the package. A lot of times you'll get an initial fee and then additional subscriber fee depending on the volume, and in exchange for that you'll agree to basically hand pamphlets out to people who are moving in, as part of what I guess you could call a 'co-marketing' agreement. That's where we get involved, and there's a lot going on in that space which I've seen lately.”
Have you ever had any contractual issues or general resident dissatisfaction with a provider?
“Because it's not an exclusive arrangement – and I don't believe that it is allowed to be – if a provider is not actually providing good service, condo owners can always get an alternate service put in.
“But one of the areas where we do tend to struggle is access, when developers are shortsighted and install, for example, phone lines for DSL service in a clubhouse, and in order to have other services put in, you'd have to tear up the parking lot and rewire the whole operation. Installing conduits for future options would always be useful, but many developers don't have the foresight.”
Mike Odenthal is a staff writer/reporter with New England Condominium.