Report Again Finds Broadband ISPs Charge Minority, Poor Neighborhoods More

from the do-not-pass-go,-do-not-collect-$200 dept

The regional monopolization of U.S. broadband (and the widespread corruption that protects it) comes with all manner of nasty side effects.

The lack of competition at the heart of the country’s telecom economy contributes to high prices, comically bad customer service, slow speeds, spotty coverage, annoying fees, and privacy and net neutrality violations (since there’s often no market penalty for bad behavior). But it also results in “redlining,” or when a regional monopoly simply refuses to upgrade minority neighborhoods because they deem it not profitable enough to serve.

The National Digital Inclusion Alliance has done some interesting work on this front for years, showing how companies like AT&T, despite billions in subsidies and tax breaks, routinely just avoids upgrading minority and low income neighborhoods to fiber. Not only that, the group has long showed how users in those neighborhoods also struggle to have their existing (older and slower) services (like 911) repaired.

Recently the Markup released another phenomenal report again highlighting how telecom giants like AT&T routinely redline, refusing to upgrade lower income or minority residents who often live just a few blocks away from more affluent, whiter folks:

The Markup gathered and analyzed more than 800,000 internet service offers from AT&T, Verizon, Earthlink, and CenturyLink in 38 cities across America and found that all four routinely offered fast base speeds at or above 200 Mbps in some neighborhoods for the same price as connections below 25 Mbps in others.

The neighborhoods offered the worst deals had lower median incomes in nine out of 10 cities in the analysis. In two-thirds of the cities where The Markup had enough data to compare, the providers gave the worst offers to the least-White neighborhoods.

This is usually the part where some Libertarian-leaning free market devotee steps in to say something like “what do you expect, for them to deploy broadband where they make less money?” At which point the response is a resounding yes, given we’ve thrown countless billions in tax breaks, subsidies, and regulatory favors to these companies under the agreement that they’d do exactly that.

The FCC by and large has ignored this practice for twenty years. Every so often you’ll see somebody at the agency pop up and claim they’ll “take a closer look” at the problem (as the agency did last year), which is promptly followed up with zero substantive action of any kind whatsoever (granted it’s important to recall the telecom industry has launched a successful smear campaign to cripple the agency).

But generally, all you’ll get from US politicians and regulators is a lot of hollow rhetoric about how much we care about “solving the digital divide.” Though we don’t apparently care quite enough to do things like seriously crack down on AT&T subsidy fraud, promote municipal/cooperative/utility competition (see our recent report on just this subject), penalize redlining, or even acknowledge the fact that U.S. broadband is heavily monopolized and protected by rampant state and federal corruption.

Instead, we get regulators like the FCC’s Brendan Carr, whose top priority is hyperventilating about TikTok, a company in an industry he doesn’t even actually regulate. Regulators who gut the FCC’s consumer protection authority, demonize community broadband alternatives, support unchecked consolidation, slather monopolies in billions, then turn around and pretend they’re doing all of it for the little guy.

Filed Under: broadband, competition, digital divide, discrimination, fcc, high speed internet, low income, minorities, red lining

Companies: at&t

Karl Bode

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