What is the truth behind slow broadband in poorer communities?

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The gap in broadband coverage in a poorer neighborhood is effectively a digital form of redlining, a now-banned practice that denied service based on race. In the 1930s, banks started developing maps to withhold loans for high-risk, "undesirable inhabitant types", who were almost always poor people of color. The redlining extended to a refusal to insure residents in low-income neighborhoods, denial of health care and decisions not to build essential facilities like supermarkets. Even Amazon has been accused of not serving poor, predominantly Black neighborhoodswith its Prime same-day shipping plan.

The decades of redlining represent a form of systemic racism that has denied generations of Black people the kind of opportunities many other Americans enjoy. And the fear is it's happening again with broadband internet service. Big providers, when deciding where to invest the money to upgrade their networks, often focus on wealthier parts of cities and shun low-income communities. Fiber connections are expensive, and ISPs are hesitant to expand unless they expect a return on their investment. As a result, poorer communities often have no internet or are stuck with slow, legacy networks that can't meet today's demands even though they usually pay as much as their wealthier neighbors who have gigabit fiber connections.

Digital redlining isn't illegal since there aren't regulations that dictate where broadband providers build their networks. But those desirable areas are often affluent, predominantly white communities. Conversely, areas where income is lower tend to be in Black and Hispanic neighborhoods, intrinsically tying this issue to race, consumer advocates say. It's because of those complexities that it's difficult to truly gauge the magnitude of the problem.

"Is it intentionally race?" said Angela Siefer, executive director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, a nonprofit that advocates for low-income communities to get access to technology. "One doesn't know intentions. But one knows the outcome, which is the majority of the neighborhoods that have slower speeds from providers ... are lower-income neighborhoods, and they tend to be communities of color."


 
Meet the Expert

Chris Kays founded F1 Computing Solutions, LLC, in July 2005. Having spent many years in the IT field and knowing just how difficult and frustrating it could be to find support in a timely manner, Chris decided his IT company would focus on high-quality, timely customer service.


Chris was honorably discharged as a disabled veteran after four years of service in the United States Air Force. Following that service, Chris became a letter carrier for the United States Postal Service in Springfield. After 15 years working his way up through the ranks into management while simultaneously putting himself through college at MSU, earning a bachelor’s degree in business, Chris decided to start F1 Computing Solutions. During Chris’s time at the Postal Service, he frequently put his computer and programming skills to use. He even cut the manager’s workload in half with a program he created; a program that was then implemented at post offices nationwide.


Chris is immensely proud of his many accomplishments throughout his life. He is and always will be a proud American and is even more proud to be from Springfield, Missouri. Chris is honored to be able to continue with a thriving business supported by the very community to which he has always belonged.