Internet service in Los Angeles County is often offered at higher prices in low-income neighborhoods, while better deals are offered in wealthier areas, according to a report from the California Community Foundation and Digital Equity LA.
Researchers picked random addresses in every city in the county and shopped for internet service on AT&T, Frontier, and Charter Spectrum, which has a monopoly in parts of the county.
Shayna Englin, director of the digital equity initiative at the California Community Foundation, said the disparities in Spectrum’s promotional offers were glaring, for example, between low-income Watts and wealthier Mar Vista.
“Internet Ultra, the slowest speed that they offer in the highest-income neighborhoods, is offered for $70 a month, good for just one year, in Watts,” Englin outlined. “A few miles away in Mar Vista, they offer the same thing for $30 a month, a price that is good for two years.”
Charter Spectrum, in a statement, said its plans, speeds and prices are the same for every ZIP code nationwide. It disputed some of the data, and claimed the report cherry-picked promotional offers. The company noted it has built out the largest internet infrastructure in the county and participates in the Emergency Broadband Benefit program and the Affordable Connectivity Program, which offer low rates for low-income subscribers.
Jorge Rivera, executive co-director of The People’s Resource Center in Long Beach, one of 40 community groups that helped gather data for the study, called the prices discriminatory.
“Even if they are customer-acquisition strategies, they’re still discriminatory because you’re offering less price in higher-income areas than you’re offering in lower-income areas,” Rivera argued. “So the fact that it’s just promotional is not an adequate response to the discriminatory practice.”
Rivera asserted internet service should be treated like a utility, not a luxury, because people depend on it for work, school, telemedicine, and more.