Nov 17, 2022 - News

Des Moines' low-income areas offered slower internet for higher costs

Cities where low-income households are offered slow internet plans more often
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 by The Markup reveals rampant disparities when it comes to internet service in marginalized communities in major cities in the U.S., including Des Moines.

Driving the news: People in lower-income, historically redlined neighborhoods are routinely paying the same price for slower internet service as people in upper-income areas pay for high-speed internet, the analysis found.

Why it matters: 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.

Zoom in: In Des Moines — where CenturyLink provides services — nearly twice as many households in low-income neighborhoods are offered slower internet packages than in wealthier communities, the investigation shows.

  • 40% of lower-income neighborhoods in Des Moines were given worse internet plans compared to 28% in higher-income areas.
  • Meanwhile, about 46% of neighborhoods with more people of color were offered slower internet speeds compared with 27% of areas with mostly white residents.

Context: The FCC 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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