Civil rights lawyer accuses AT&T of discriminating against low-income communities

Civil rights lawyer accuses AT&T of discriminating against low-income communities
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Civil rights attorney Daryl Parks filed a formal complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Thursday on behalf of three black women who say that their Cleveland neighborhoods don’t have access to the same broadband services as the surrounding suburbs.

The complaint cites a March report from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) and Connect Your Community (CYC), which showed stark disparities in the internet transmission technologies deployed in different areas in and around Cleveland.

The report concluded 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 refer to as “digital redlining.”

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AT&T customers that live in Cleveland census blocks with high poverty rates are being serviced by an outdated transmission mode called asymmetric digital subscriber line 2, while Cuyahoga County suburbs and most urban areas in the rest of the country have access to more advanced fiber internet services, according to the report.

AT&T denied the allegations, saying that any disparity in internet speeds is the result of the company’s financial considerations and not discrimination.

“We do not redline,” Joan Marsh, AT&T’s chief regulatory and external affairs officer, said in a statement to The Hill. “Our commitment to diversity and inclusion is unparalleled. Our investment decisions are based on the cost of deployment and demand for our services and are of course fully compliant with the requirements of the Communications Act. We will vigorously defend the complaint filed today.”

According to the complaint, a July meeting between Parks and AT&T executives ended in a “flat denial by AT&T that it is redlining.” Parks also said that the company is unwilling to engage in mediation and that the two sides were unable to reach a settlement.

Parks is known for having represented Trayvon Martin’s family after the black 17-year-old was shot and killed by George Zimmerman in 2012.

Parks’s three clients alleged that they experience extremely low download speeds despite paying for premium broadband access. One of the women, Joanne Elkins, said that she had spent $1,500 on a security system for her home only to find out that it was rendered useless by the slow internet service.

Parks wrote that AT&T has violated the Communications Act by “failing to serve the low-income, communities of color” in Cleveland and that the FCC should impose fines on the telecommunications giant.

A spokeswoman for FCC Chairman Ajit Pai declined to comment, citing a policy of not weighing in on pending adjudications.

The complaint also asks that AT&T disclose details about its marketing towards communities of color, demographics about its customers and information on its internet deployment operations.

This story was updated at 1:47 p.m.