Report accuses AT&T of discriminating against low-income neighborhoods

Report accuses AT&T of discriminating against low-income neighborhoods
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AT&T has neglected to provide low-income neighborhoods in Cleveland with top broadband capabilities, a new report alleges.

Two nonprofit groups, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) and Connect Your Community (CYC), conducted an analysis of AT&T data provided to the Federal Communications Commission that shows where they have deployed different broadband services.

The groups found that low-income areas in Cleveland are much less likely to have access to higher download speeds than suburban communities.

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The report alleges that “AT&T has systematically discriminated against lower-income Cleveland neighborhoods in its deployment of home Internet and video technologies over the past decade” — a practice that NDIA and CYC referred to as “digital redlining.”

Redlining is a term traditionally used to describe a discriminatory real estate lending practice in which people are denied loans due in large part to their race or income.

In a statement on Friday afternoon, a spokesman for AT&T pointed to the company's investments in expanding broadband access around the country.

“The report does not accurately reflect the investment we've made in bringing faster internet to urban and rural areas across the U.S," the spokesman said. "While we are investing in broadband, we’re also investing in technologies that will mitigate some of the infrastructure limitations."

The report, based on an analysis of AT&T data from June, shows that just 34 percent of census blocks within Cleveland city limits served by AT&T have access to fiber-enhanced service, while the rest rely on internet delivered by outdated copper cables. Meanwhile, 61 percent of the remaining census blocks in Cuyahoga County have access to fiber offerings.

“The data show that AT&T has failed to upgrade its network in low-income Cleveland neighborhoods while deploying a high-speed fiber network to wealthier areas within the metropolitan area,” Phillip Berenbroick, senior policy counsel at advocacy group Public Knowledge, said in a statement.

“This is classic redlining of services,” Berenbroick added. “These bypassed low-income neighborhoods have no options for high-speed fixed broadband service and must settle for lower speeds. As a result, families in these areas are more likely to rely on mobile broadband, which is significantly more expensive on a per GB basis.”

NDIA and CYC say that the evidence points to a “pattern of long-term, systematic failure to invest in the infrastructure required to provide equitable, mainstream Internet access to residents of the central city (compared to the suburbs) and to lower-income city neighborhoods.”

Updated: 2:55 p.m.