A study released yesterday by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance—although it was completed last year with data from 2016—says AT&T has cut out Dallas’ poor neighborhoods from access to the fast internet that’s found all over more affluent neighborhoods and suburbs.
Allow me to break down the map above, because it gets to the heart of the report. In red are areas where the rate of poverty tops 35 percent. The blue areas are where “Fiber to the Home” and “Fiber to the Node” infrastructure has been introduced, which has become “the standard for most Dallas County suburbs and other urban AT&T markets throughout the U.S.,” according to the study. It carries speeds at 18 megabits per second or more. As you can tell by the dark spots on the map, there’s not much overlap.
The study, by Oklahoma State University’s Dr. Brian Whitacre, was commissioned after a previous Whitacre study supported an FCC complaint against AT&T for similar practices in Cleveland. Whitacre concludes the Dallas County results “provide clear evidence that AT&T has withheld fiber-enhanced broadband improvements from most Dallas neighborhoods with high poverty rates.” Those neighborhoods are left with “uneven, often severely limited internet access.” This can only contribute to our city’s already stark lines of economic segregation.
Because the patterns revealed by this analysis result from a decade of deliberate infrastructure investment decisions, I argue that they constitute strong evidence of a policy and practice of “digital redlining” by AT&T — i.e. income-based discrimination against residents of lower-income urban neighborhoods in the types of broadband service AT&T offers, and in the company’s investment in improved service.
In an emailed statement on Wednesday afternoon, an AT&T spokesperson defended the company against the findings and highlighted strides the company has made in recent years:
We do not redline and the data used for this “study” is nearly 3 years old. We have deployed more fiber per capita in South Dallas than we have across the DFW area. More than 51% of households in our internet service footprint in the DFW area have access to fiber and if you narrow that to southern Dallas, the number is actually much higher at 70%. In 2017, we announced we had more than doubled the number of locations where fiber was available in South Dallas to more than 50,000 and since then, we’ve more than doubled that again to nearly 130,000. Our investment decisions are based on the capacity needs of our network, demand for our services and budget.