Brooklyn Congresswoman Yvette Clarke is calling out internet service providers for excluding low and middle income communities from high-quality broadband access in new legislation that would prohibit digital redlining.
H.R. 4875, the Anti-Digital Redlining Act of 2021, would ensure equitable access to high-quality, affordable broadband coverage in marginalized communities by prohibiting the practice of digital redlining.
It would do that by requiring the Federal Communications Commission to step up its assessments, inquiries and enforcement of digital redlining through comprehensive measures that heal communities affected by digital redlining, Clarke said.
Digital Redling occurs when internet service providers (ISPs) do not upgrade transmission systems in low and medium communities because they believe the communities are not as profitable as higher income communities. It also stems from anti-competitive practices that force low-income and communities of color to pay higher prices for poorer service, including exclusive access agreements which are drafted by ISPs between landlords, housing associations, and other private entities to prevent competitors from providing services to certain properties.
Landlords may also give residents discounts on rent and utility payments that allow ISPs to install invasive equipment and wiring. The FCC banned exclusive agreements between landlords and broadband providers in 2007, but the arrangements continue today due to loopholes and a lack of effective enforcement mechanisms to ensure swift access to alternative services for willing customers, Clarke said.
An aim of the bill is to increase market competition between ISPs in underserved neighborhoods to ensure marginalized communities receive the quality and affordable broadband coverage they deserve, she said.
“Today, more than 19 million American households lack reliable broadband. When considering a significant rate of these families, many of whom live within communities of color, are intentionally deprived of their deserved broadband access through digital redlining, this already distressing figure becomes entirely haunting,” she said.
Clarke added that broadband was essential to modern society, and despite that ISPs continued to digitally redline communities of color “on the basis of callous greed, in effect stripping individuals of equitable access to employment opportunities, affordable housing, childcare, and any number of critical services only available online.”
“Let me be clear; broadband is a right. Full stop. The Anti-Digital Redlining Act of 2021 will protect that right in underserved and underrepresented communities nationwide,” she said.
Jenna Leventoff, senior policy counsel at Public Knowledge, said the same neighborhoods that were once redlined by banks and insurance companies now faced similar discrimination by internet service providers, resulting in slow, unreliable broadband for low-income consumers and people of color — or no broadband at all.
“We sincerely thank Rep. Clarke for championing legislation that would ensure everyone, regardless of their income or color of their skin, has access to high-quality, affordable broadband.”