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

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

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Reproduced from analysis by The Markup of AT&T, CenturyLink, Verizon and US Census data; Note: “Slow” Internet defined as download speed less than 25 Mbps; Income determined by the median household income of the region in which customers live; Graphic: Axios Visuals

A new survey reveals rampant disparities in how internet service is delivered to marginalized communities in major cities across the country, including Denver.

Driving the news: Low-income, historically gated neighborhoods where mostly people of color live regularly pay for slower internet service at the same price as high-speed broadband in high-income areas, according to analysis by The Markup.

In Denver — where CenturyLink provides service — nearly three times as many households in lower-income neighborhoods are offered slower Internet plans than in wealthier communities, according to the survey.

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

Why is this important: Broadband companies offer the poorest deals to some of the people who need affordable, reliable internet service the most.

  • Digital discrimination puts populations already impacted by historical and systemic inequalities at additional risk of being negatively affected, especially when it comes to accessing remote learning and employment opportunities.

The context: The Federal Communications Commission does not consider the Internet a public service, like telephone service, which means it is unregulated.

  • As a result, broadband companies can make their own calls to find out where they offer service and for how much.

The other side: Mark Molzen, a spokesman for Lumen, CenturyLink’s parent company, told Axios Denver that the company “doesn’t[es] not engage in discriminatory practices like redlining” and called The Markup’s report “deeply flawed”.

  • However, he did not specify how the analysis is wrong and did not respond to Axios Denver’s request for clarification.
  • Molzen said CenturyLink is “committed to helping bridge the digital divide” and is offering a $30 monthly rebate on internet service to eligible low-income households.

The big picture: Markup results reveal that 92% of the 38 major US cities surveyed had income-based disparities in Internet service, and two-thirds had disparities based on race and ethnicity.

  • Of the 22 cities with historical redlining maps, internet inequalities have emerged in each of them.

What to watch: The FCC formed a task force this year to begin drafting rules and policies to combat digital redlining and promote equal Internet access across the country.

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