AT&T accused of discriminating against low-income neighborhoods

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Alleging that there is a “pattern” of not providing the infrastructure needed for high-quality internet service to minority neighborhoods with high poverty rates, a civil rights attorney has accused AT&T of discriminating against minorities.

Daryl Parks, a well-known lawyer who represented the family of slain teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012, filed a complaint Monday with the Federal Communications Commission against AT&T.

Parks claims that AT&T is intentionally withholding quality internet service from minority neighborhoods. His complaint alleges that AT&T has demonstrated 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.”

The complaint referenced a study of the Detroit area, which reported that “41 percent of the census blocks within the city had access to the highest tiers of fiber internet technologies compared with 81 percent of the remaining census blocks in Wayne County.”

The study found that the areas receiving the highest internet speeds have an average poverty rate of only 5.5 percent, while the county’s average poverty rate is 25.5 percent.

Parks also filed a similar complaint last month in Cleveland. At that time, an AT&T spokesman and chief regulatory and external affairs officer said in a statement: “We do not redline. 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 filed today.”

However, Parks threatened that he was just getting started in his own statement: “Unfortunately, AT&T’s arrogance and blatant disregard for low-income minority communities do not end with Detroit or Cleveland. We are seeing a very discouraging pattern across the country. There are more cities, states and complainants to come.”

Parks reportedly filed the complaint Monday on behalf of two middle-income Detroit residents who allege that “wealthier and predominantly white areas have gotten premium upgradable high-speed broadband access at bullet speed,” while the complainants “receive slow speeds at a rate as low as 1.5 Mbps downstream or less, although they pay AT&T for high-speed access.”

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