AT&T denies claims it is redlining Ohio broadband customers

AT&T says it bases its network investment decisions on where it sees the potential to get a good return on those investments.

AT&T said that claims in a lawsuit accusing the telco of ignoring the needs of lower-income residential broadband customers in Ohio are false. 

An AT&T spokesman told FierceTelecom that the service provider does not engage in so-called redlining and that it bases its network investment decisions on where it sees the potential to get a good return on those investments.

Digital redlining is a process of income-based discrimination carried out against lower-income neighborhoods.

“We do not redline,” the spokesman said. “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.”

The spokesman added that AT&T “will vigorously defend the complaint.”

AT&T said it has invested nearly $1.5 billion in wireless and wired networks in Ohio during 2013-2015, with more than $325 million of that in Cleveland.

On Thursday, Florida attorney Daryl Parks of Parks and Crump filed a Formal Complaint and Request for an Investigation and Hearing against AT&T at the FCC on behalf of three low-­income residents in Cleveland, Ohio.

RELATED: AT&T accused of ignoring lower-income Cleveland neighborhoods’ broadband needs

In the complaint, Joanne Elkins, Hattie Lanfair, and Rachelle Lee cited their issues with AT&T’s broadband service. Although the three women pay AT&T for high-speed access, they claim they receive speeds of 1.5 Mbps or lower. Further, the suit charges that residents in wealthier and predominantly white areas have gotten premium upgradable high-speed broadband access at bullet speed comparatively.

“AT&T offers a product that is inferior to consumers living directly adjacent to consumers that receive a high-quality service. Consumers view ADSL and VDSL2 as services which meet the same needs,” the complaint reads (PDF). “Both are broadband services used to reach the internet, stream video, and other similar needs. One product is of much lower quality than another.”

Additionally, the suit said that “the only meaningful difference between these consumers is their residence in an area in the urban core of Cleveland, consisting of significantly more low-income families and people of color.”

The suit follows a study conducted by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), which has accused the telco of passing over lower-income Cleveland neighborhoods when it made recent broadband upgrades in the area.

Citing FCC Form 477 census block data for June 2016, NDIA claimed that AT&T has not upgraded the majority of Cleveland neighborhoods with high poverty rates, including Hough, Glenville, Central, Fairfax, South Collinwood, St. Clair-Superior, Detroit-Shoreway, Stockyards and others.