You may pay the same as your neighbor for slower internet

The AT&T sign hangs from a pole.

photo: Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)

It’s not just your imagination: Depending on where you live in America, major ISPs could charge you the same price as your neighbors for fewer megabits per second. The service discrepancy is reportedly most severe in low-income and less-white neighborhoods.

According to a report by The markup, ISPs like AT&T, Verizon, EarthLink and CenturyLink routinely “offered” 200 Mbps and less than 25 Mbps of data for the same price in different parts of the city. The report examined 800,000 Internet listings in 38 US cities and found that lesser white and formerly red line neighborhoods had the worst speeds for the same prices. Redlining was a discriminatory housing practice for the excluded black and non-white minorities and low-income neighborhood residents, forcing them to live in “redlined” areas. In a Kansas City neighborhood, a few blocks can mean the difference between 300 Mbps and 5 Mbps. Both households would pay $55 a month for such a large difference in speed despite being less than half a mile apart. The household that got 5 Mbps for $55 was in an area where the median income was $40,000 less than the other household’s neighborhood.

When contacted by The markup, ISPs did not deny charging the same prices for slower speeds, but they did deny the possibility of discrimination. Verizon’s rep cited the equipment cost of maintaining slow speeds as a reason for the price. AT&T noted that it offers an option for eligible low-income households (research found only a third of eligible households had signed up for the program). Earthlink did not respond to the comment, and CenturyLink did not elaborate on why the report was incorrect.

Internet access has become essential to modern life, especially in the last decade. The pandemic has only increased our reliance on Zoom meetings and Slack. But the federal government doesn’t classify internet access as a utility like electricity or water. There is therefore no obligation for private providers to offer customers better tariffs for the Internet connection.

The telecommunications union, Communication Workers of America, says the financial cost is not a real concern for delivering high-speed service. “We kept hearing from members that they were putting lines on one side of the neighborhood and not the other,” a CWA representative said The markup. A man living in a low-income neighborhood experienced slower speeds despite the presence of an AT&T facility outside his bedroom window.

“The main reason for this,” said Bill Callahan, a proponent of Internet affordability The markup“believe they don’t have enough money in these neighborhoods to sustain the kind of market they want.” You may pay the same as your neighbor for slower internet

Curtis Crabtree

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