AT&T gives slower internet to poor people, faster to the wealthier: FCC complaint

Joanne Elkins, a visually impaired African-American woman from Cleveland, spent $1,500 on a home security system then discovered that because her AT&T broadband service was so slow, the system wouldn’t work.

That’s one of the claims in a complaint filed Aug. 24 with the Federal Communications Commission against the telecommunications giant, that alleges AT&T provides slower internet speeds to poor communities than wealthier ones across the country.

AT&T denied the claims in the complaint, and promised to defend itself vigorously against the allegations.

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Another African-American resident of Cleveland, Hattie Lanfair, said her daughter, a teacher, can’t visit overnight during the school year because her AT&T broadband service is too slow for her to download homework materials.

The third Cleveland complainant, Rochelle Lee, said when her grandchildren come over, they can’t stream videos or play games because of AT&T’s “painfully slow” internet service.

The women’s FCC action charges AT&T with  “a pattern of long-term, systematic failure to invest in the infrastructure required to provide equitable, mainstream internet access to residents of the central city (compared to the suburbs) and to lower-income city neighborhoods,” according to the complaint.

The inequity in internet speed is a cross-country problem, the complaint alleged, citing research that concluded that in AT&T-served areas where households make $81,000 or more, 85 percent of people can buy fast broadband from the company, but in areas where household incomes are less than $35,000, they can’t.

What’s being claimed is commonly known as “redlining,” which refers to deliberate decisions by internet providers to provide better service to wealthier neighborhoods.

The complaint pointed to a report by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, which blamed the alleged problem on AT&T’s failure to comprehensively extend infrastructure called “Fiber to the Node” to poorer Cleveland communities, “including the overwhelming majority of blocks with individual poverty rates above 35 percent.”

AT&T strongly denied the accusations.

“We do not redline,” a company spokesman said in an email Aug. 25.

“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.”


Photo: AT&T’s company logo on a building (JeepersMedia/flickr)


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  • boyscout

    Att should be broken up so that consumers have more and better options. We keep letting companies get too big by buying up everything so quality and choice options go way down and prices go way up. Their deceptive tactics poor service makes them an undesirable choice. And more choice and better quality is what consumers deserve

    • attli

      Other companies could come in and compete, but the payout for the infrastructure costs isn’t there. Plus, AT&T was broken up decades ago in an attempt to force competition. What happened was that all the little providers went under for lack of capitalization. So the big dogs bought them back and now it’s deja vu all over again.

  • Will

    Why the constant focus on telecoms? What about grocery stores, gas stations, houses, roads, public infrastructure, cleanliness, nicer cars, better looking sidewalks, on and on and on? What about EVERYTHING? Internet speed isn’t the only thing that lacks when you compare poor neighborhoods vs ones that have people with middle to upper class incomes. This is ridiculous. These people want to blame everything else aside from their own decisions. Why not switch internet providers if you don’t like the speed? Why lawsuit? This internal turmoil is dragging down the productivity of this country, and it’s the biggest liability we have as a nation.