Nov 28, 2022 - News

D.C.'s low-income households are routinely offered slower internet plans

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 is defined as less than 25 Mbps download speed. Income is determined by the median household income of the area where customers live. Chart: Axios Visuals

A new investigation by The Markup reveals rampant disparities when it comes to internet service for marginalized communities in major U.S. cities, including D.C.

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

Why it matters: Digital discrimination harms populations that already face systemic inequalities, particularly when it comes to accessing remote learning and job opportunities, Axios' Alayna Alvarez reports.

Zoom in: In D.C. — where The Markup analyzed internet service by Verizon — nearly twice as many households in low-income neighborhoods are offered slower internet packages than those in wealthier communities, the investigation shows.

Thirty-two percent of lower-income neighborhoods in D.C. were given slow internet plans, compared to 13% of higher-income areas.

  • Verizon did not respond to Axios' request for comment.

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 decisions about where they offer services and for how much.

Between the lines: Before the pandemic, 28% of D.C. households lacked access to broadband internet or a home computer, according to the D.C. Policy Center. This disparity was further highlighted by the rise in remote work and virtual learning during the pandemic.

The big picture: The Markup's findings reveal that 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 draft policies to combat digital redlining and foster equal internet access.

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