Picture the life of a renter 10 years ago. The few people who knew what the Internet was probably only had access from work. Hardly anyone had high-speed access from a personal computer at home. Those that were technologically advanced, however, would be grateful for a phone line to connect to a modem, listen to a high-pitched squeal upon connection, and then wait interminably to send an e-mail message or reach the Internet.

When it comes to equipping multifamily buildings with technology today, there's one overriding trend: making high-speed Internet access available as a baseline feature. Interviews with multifamily executives found virtually all offering or planning to offer high-speed Internet access.

These anecdotal experiences are supported by market data. High-tech researcher In-Stat/MDR says there will be less than one million broadband subscribers in what In-Stat calls “multi-dwelling units” at the end of 2004. By the end of 2008, that number of subscribers will grow tenfold, the research firm forecasts.

The trend is clearly exhibited in retirement rental communities, where residents are retiring younger and with more Internet savvy than their counterparts of the past. “They have 401(k)s where they go to Fidelity and Vanguard to check their stocks,” says Stephen Gordet of the advertising firm Gordet and Associates.

The same can be said among firms that manage large quantities of student housing, including Ambling Management Co., which has more than 17,000 units of student housing. “High-speed Internet access for students is a very key area,” says Ken Miller, CIO of Ambling in Atlanta.

Another technology supplied to renters is Internet Web sites or portals where customers can manage a variety of interactions with apartment companies. The Lane Co. in Atlanta has implemented an online facilities/work order management system through its customer portal. That system lets renters electronically submit a work order—for an appliance repair, for example—at their convenience, saving time and hassles for everyone.

“It goes directly from the Web into our server and then right to the hand-held computers our service manager has on property,” explains Bill Donges, chief operating officer at Lane. “Then the service manager can assign it to someone or do it himself.”