QUESTION: Our association would like AT&T to install fiber optic cable to units. Our CC&Rs limit the board from entering into agreements longer than 5 years without membership approval. We want to comply with the restriction but AT&T has language in their agreement they refuse to amend that AT&T's ownership of facilities and the ability to service existing customers survives the agreement. Does that violate our CC&Rs?
ANSWER: I don't believe it does. Your board is entering into a bulk service agreement for five years. At the end of five years, you can switch to another provider. The agreement allows AT&T to continue servicing individual customers who choose to keep the programming. It satisfies the FCC's nonexclusivity requirements and does not violate your CC&R restriction. I would be more concerned with automatic renewals and ownership of the cable.
Automatic Renewal. Boards should be cautious about automatic renewals. Almost all service providers (elevator companies, management companies, landscapers, etc.) have "evergreen clauses" in their agreements. They provide for automatic renewal of the agreement unless the board gives written notice otherwise. They often have a 30-, 60-, or 90-day notice period. Failure to give notice within that period means the contract automatically renews for another term.
The longer the notice period, the more likely a future board will miss the requirement and the contract automatically renews. Boards should either remove the automatic renewal clause or reduce the notice requirement to no more than 30 (or 45) days.
Infrastructure Ownership. Ownership of the cable should be explored. AT&T is investing a lot of money installing it and rightly wants to recoup its investment. If they retain ownership, they have leverage to induce a future board to renew the contract. If the association does not renew with AT&T, another provider would need to install their own cable--a costly and disruptive process.
You should explore sharing the cost of the installation with AT&T so ownership of the cable transfers to the association at the conclusion of the agreement. Another approach is to negotiate language that if the association renews the agreement for a second term, ownership transfers to the association. I've used both approaches in the past.
Recommendation: As the industry shifts to fiber optic cable (for fast internet speeds and more bandwidth for live streaming), many associations will be negotiating new contracts. We just installed it in our main office. In addition to using legal counsel to review the contract, boards should consider using a cable consultant (yes, they exist) to assist in the negotiations. Attorneys are good at reviewing legal issues but the cable industry is constantly changing and someone with industry expertise can help negotiate better deals. One consultant I'm aware of is Morgan Fussell (www.morganfussell.com). An internet search should identify others.
ASSISTANCE: Associations needing legal assistance can contact us. To stay current with issues affecting community associations, subscribe to the Davis-Stirling Newsletter.