Major ISPs have consistently offered poor neighborhoods and communities of color slower base internet speeds than more affluent, white neighborhoods, despite charging all of these communities the same price for service, according to a new investigation by The Markup and The Associated Press.
The news organizations studied 800,000 internet offers from AT&T, CenturyLink, Verizon, and Earthlink across 38 cities and found that the worst deals — factoring in speed and price — were offered in poorer and less white neighborhoods. "Residents of neighborhoods offered the worst deals aren’t just being ripped off; they’re denied the ability to participate in remote learning, well-paying remote jobs, and even family connection and recreation—ubiquitous elements of modern life," the report reads.
The investigation sheds light on the fact that worse broadband service in poor communities doesn't necessarily equate to lower costs. In one instance, the investigation found that AT&T customers in a middle-class community of color in New Orleans were provided with just 1Mbps of download speed, even though the FCC defines broadband as having a minimum of 25Mbps. In a mostly white, wealthier neighborhood in the same city, internet speeds were “almost 400 times faster,” the report found. But residents of both neighborhoods paid the same $55 a month for service.
The ISPs mentioned in the report didn't deny offering different speed rates for the same price, but said it's not because they're intentionally discriminating. “Any suggestion that we discriminate in providing internet access is blatantly wrong,” AT&T spokesperson Jim Greer told The Markup. An executive for the industry group USTelecom, which represents Verizon, attributed the speed and price discrepancies to the fact that “legacy technologies can be more expensive."
The disparities in service provision were found to be especially felt in formerly redlined neighborhoods. The investigation also found that CenturyLink's service produced some of the biggest price disparities, with residents of the same city being offered pricing as different as 25 cents per Mbps and $100 per Mbps depending on where they lived.
“It isn’t just about the provision of a better service. It’s about access to the tools people need to fully participate in our democratic system,” Chad Marlow, senior policy counsel at the ACLU told the AP and Markup. “That is a far bigger deal and that’s what really worries me about what you’re finding.”