Nov 2, 2022 - News

Denver's low-income areas offered slower internet for higher costs

Reproduced from an analysis by The Markup of AT&T, CenturyLink, Verizon, and U.S. Census data; Note: "Slow" internet defined as less than 25 Mbps download speed; Income determined by median household income of area in which customers live; Chart: Axios Visuals

A new investigation reveals rampant disparities when it comes to how internet service is offered to marginalized communities in major cities across the country, including Denver.

Driving the news: Lower-income, historically redlined neighborhoods where people of color primarily live are routinely paying for slower internet service for the same price as high-speed broadband in upper-income areas, an analysis from The Markup found.

In Denver — where CenturyLink provides services — nearly three times as many households in low-income neighborhoods are offered slower internet packages than in wealthier communities, the investigation shows.

  • 23% of lower-income neighborhoods in Denver were given worse internet plans compared to 8% in higher-income areas.
  • Meanwhile, 15.5% of neighborhoods with more people of color were offered slower internet speeds compared with 11.7% of areas with most white residents.

Why it matters: Broadband companies are providing the shoddiest deals to some of the people most in need of affordable, reliable internet service.

  • Digital discrimination puts populations already harmed by historic and systemic inequalities at further risk of being adversely impacted, particularly when it comes to accessing remote learning and job opportunities.

Context: The Federal Communications Commission doesn't consider the internet a utility, like telephone service — meaning it goes unregulated.

  • As a result, broadband companies can make their own calls about where they offer services, and for how much.

The other side: Mark Molzen, a spokesperson for CenturyLink's parent company Lumen, told Axios Denver the company "do[es] not engage in discriminatory practices like redlining" and called The Markup's report "deeply flawed."

  • He didn't specify how the analysis is erroneous, however, and did not respond to Axios Denver's request for clarification.
  • Molzen said CenturyLink is "committed to helping close the digital divide" and offers a $30 monthly discount on internet service for qualifying lower-income households.

The big picture: The Markup's findings reveal 92% of the 38 major U.S. cities examined had disparities based on income when it came to internet service, and two-thirds had discrepancies based on race and ethnicity.

  • Of the 22 cities with historical redlining maps, internet inequities showed up in all of them.

What to watch: The FCC formed a task force this year to begin drafting rules and policies aimed at combating digital redlining and fostering equal internet access nationwide.

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