AT&T May Have Digitally Redlined Poor Communities In Cleveland With Slower Internet
According to the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) and Connect Your Community, AT&T has “systematically discriminated against lower-income Cleveland neighborhoods in its deployment of home Internet and video technologies over the past decade.”
A report released from the alliance last week states, “AT&T has chosen not to extend its ‘fiber-to-the-node’ VDSL infrastructure—which is now the standard for most Cuyahoga County suburbs and other urban AT&T markets throughout the US — to the majority of Cleveland Census blocks, including the overwhelming majority of blocks with individual poverty rates above 35 percent.”
The investigation started last year when the NDIA called attention to AT&T’s refusal to offer “$5-per-month Internet service to poor people in areas where the company hasn’t upgraded its network,” reported ARS Technica.”When the Federal Communications Commission approved AT&T’s purchase of DirecTV in 2015, the FCC required AT&T to provide discount broadband to poor people as a condition of the merger. But the condition apparently allowed AT&T to charge full price in areas where maximum download speeds were less than 3Mbps.”
In Cleveland, poor residents aren’t even afforded faster internet. ARS Technica reported, “In the Ohio suburbs, AT&T customers routinely get speeds of at least 18Mbps and sometimes up to 1Gbps, while high-poverty neighborhoods in Cleveland are stuck on speeds of 768kbps to 6mbps, the report said. The FCC defines broadband speeds as 25Mbps downstream and 3Mbps upstream.”
Following the NDIA complaint, AT&T said it would stop offering discount Internet to low-income neighborhoods in all parts of its network. According to an AT&T representative, “Access to the Internet is essential, which is why we’ve continuously invested in expanding service and enhancing speeds. The report does not accurately reflect the investment we’ve made in bringing faster internet to urban and rural areas across the U.S. While we are investing in broadband, we’re also investing in technologies that will mitigate some of the infrastructure limitations.”
AT&T said it has specifically invested heavily in Ohio, pointing to an investment of nearly $1.5 billion in its Ohio wireless and wired networks during 2013-2015, putting more than $325 million of those dollars in Cleveland.
Redlining is nothing new however. As The Grio reported, it “refers to the process that lenders used to rely on in which loans were denied to people from low-income areas. While companies claimed that the process was used because such people were considered a liability, it was often instead used to discriminate against minorities and others until the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977.” The only difference now is it’s being done digitally.