Internet service is not equally accessible to LA’s poor, the report says

The pandemic has proven how important it is to be connected to the Internet.

Without it, students couldn’t learn online, residents had a harder time making their COVID-19 vaccination appointments, and loved ones found it harder to stay in touch.

But not everyone in Los Angeles County has equal access to the high-speed broadband that makes these everyday tasks happen. Low-income residents often pay more for the same or worse service than their neighbors in higher-income areas, according to a new report from the California Community Foundation and Digital Equity LA, a coalition of local community groups.

Specifically, the report alleges that Charter Communications, which operates Spectrum, offers better promotional offers to residents in affluent neighborhoods than those offered to low-income neighborhoods, along with lower rates for higher service speeds. (Spectrum is partnered with the Los Angeles Times on a late-night TV show.)

Spectrum offers service to census tracts covering approximately 97% of LA County, the report said. That coverage can overlap with Frontier, which offers service to about 21% of LA County, and AT&T, which offers service to about 15%.

The report found that a resident of a neighborhood with a poverty level of more than 30% would pay an average of $70 per month for Spectrum’s Internet Ultra service, which has download speeds of up to 500 megabytes per second. A resident of a neighborhood with a poverty level of less than 15% would typically pay $54 per month, according to the report.

Spectrum also offered a $30-per-month price guarantee for the service that would not increase for two years, but the offer is only available in census tracts with poverty rates between 2% and 19%, the report said. The researchers found no examples of this agreement in the high-poverty census tract, the report said.

The report found that comparable service from AT&T was available for a standard price of $65 a month for a year in 16 of the 165 residential addresses in the study, with locations split “about evenly” between high-poverty and low-poverty locations. neighborhoods.

Similar service from Frontier for a standard price of $40 per month was available at 39 of the addresses studied, most of which were in low-poverty census tracts and none in high-poverty neighborhoods, according to the report.

“The reason most people don’t have internet at home is because internet is too expensive or what they can afford isn’t fast or reliable enough to make the investment worthwhile,” says Shayna Englin, director of the Digital Equity Initiative at the California Community Foundation. is the lead author of the report. “The places that should be the most profitable are actually the cheapest.”

The report’s analysis is based on data collected three months ago and reconfirmed last week from internet service providers’ websites after entering residential addresses to purchase service. The researchers took screenshots of the service’s prices and options.

Spectrum disputed the report as “deliberately misleading” and said the report focused on short-term promotional discounts that changed regularly.

“The vast majority of customers pay the regular price,” Spectrum spokesman Dennis Johnson said in an emailed statement. “New or upgrading customers can often get a short-term promotional discount while evaluating the right Spectrum services for their family, before consistent regular pricing goes into effect nationally.”

The company did not see the report before it was published and responded to a summary of the findings from The Times, as well as a recent public presentation on the report by staff at the California Community Foundation.

“Spectrum Internet speeds are nationally consistent: we offer the same speed plans in every market we serve in all 41 states,” Johnson said. “And we’re constantly working to improve our network and offer faster speeds — not by neighborhood, but by whole communities at once.”

Spectrum, AT&T and Frontier announced their participation in the federal Affordable Connection Program, which provides monthly broadband discounts to eligible, low-income families.

Like Spectrum and Frontier, AT&T did not see the report before it was released, but said it has invested about $2.6 billion in the Greater LA area over three years.

“We are committed to offering consumers and businesses in Los Angeles County affordable, high-speed connectivity at standardized prices based on the technology and service provided to the customer,” AT&T spokeswoman Megan Ketterer said in an emailed statement. “Low-income, high-income, rural and urban neighborhoods all have the same pricing plan for comparable service.”

Access to affordable and reliable broadband is a long-term capital issue, said Paul Ong, director of the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Studies, who was not involved in the report.

“When our young people graduate from high school and move on to either college or the job market, they are at a serious disadvantage because we’ve moved to a system where access to computers, the Internet, and broadband is taken for granted. most people,” he said. “People who don’t have that access are left behind.”

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