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Study: Low Income LA County Neighborhoods Pay More for Internet Service Than Wealthier Neighborhoods

While a racially-charged controversy swirls loudly around the Los Angeles City Council, a new study lays bare how low-income communities of color are impacted by the quiet business decisions of the region’s monopoly Internet service provider.

Slower and More Expensive/Sounding the Alarm: Disparities in Advertised Pricing for Fast, Reliable Broadband details how Charter Spectrum “shows a clear and consistent pattern of the provider reserving its best offers - high speed at low cost - for the wealthiest neighborhoods in LA County.”

Authored by Digital Equity LA, a coalition of more than 40 community-based organizations, not only highlights how economically vulnerable households in LA County pay more for slower service than those in wealthy neighborhoods, it also provides evidence for how financially-strapped households are also saddled with onerous contracts and are rarely targeted by advertisements for Charter Spectrum’s low cost plans.

A leading voice behind the Digital Equity LA initiative – Shayna Englin, Director of the Digital Equity Initiative at the California Community Foundation (CCF) – notes that higher poverty neighborhoods (which tend to be mostly made up of people of color) pay anywhere from $10 to $40 more per month than mostly white, higher-income neighborhoods for the exact same service. 

Monopoly Pricing Disparities in LA County - Episode 523 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast

This week on the podcast, Christopher is joined by Shayna Englin, Director of the Digital Equity Initiative at the California Community Foundation (CCF) to talk about a new report by CCF and its partners that reveals the systematic broadband cost inequities perpetuated in LA County by Charter Spectrum, the region's monopoly provider. "Sounding the Alarm," a pricing and policy impact study, shows not only that economically vulnerable households in Charter Spectrum territory pay more for slower service than those in wealthy neighborhoods, but that they are also saddled with worse contracts and regularly see fewer advertisements for the monopoly provider's lowest cost plans.

The result, Shayna shares, is that the higher poverty neighborhoods (often predominantly populated by households of color) often pay from $10 to $40/month more than low-poverty (often predominantly populated by white households) for the exact same service. Christopher and Shayne talk through the implications of these findings, and the report's call for policy changes to address Charter Spectrum's practices. They end the show by talking through some of the upcoming broadband infrastructure rules at the state level aimed at improving access and competition.

This show is 35 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed

Transcript below. 

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

RDOF, Universal Service Fund, and the Future of Video | Episode 50 of the Connect This! Show

Join us live on Thursday, August 18th, at 3:30pm ET for the latest episode of the Connect This! Show. Co-hosts Christopher Mitchell (ILSR) and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) will be joined by regular guest Kim McKinley (UTOPIA Fiber) and Casey Lide, Partner at Keller and Heckman.

The panel will talk about LTD Broadband and Starlink recently getting removed from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) by the FCC, the most recent Universal Service Fund report sent to Congress, and whether the new streaming video landscape is materially different from the old cable TV model (and if we should care). 

Subscribe to the show using this feed on YouTube Live or here on Facebook Live, on find it on the Connect This! page.

Email us broadband@muninetworks.org with feedback and ideas for the show.

Watch here on YouTube Live, here on Facebook live, or below.

RDOF, Universal Service Fund, and the Future of Video | Episode 50 of the Connect This! Show

Join us live on Thursday, August 18th, at 3:30pm ET for the latest episode of the Connect This! Show. Co-hosts Christopher Mitchell (ILSR) and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) will be joined by regular guest Kim McKinley (UTOPIA Fiber) and Casey Lide, Partner at Keller and Heckman.

The panel will talk about LTD Broadband and Starlink recently getting removed from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) by the FCC, the most recent Universal Service Fund report sent to Congress, and whether the new streaming video landscape is materially different from the old cable TV model (and if we should care). 

Subscribe to the show using this feed on YouTube Live or here on Facebook Live, on find it on the Connect This! page.

Email us broadband@muninetworks.org with feedback and ideas for the show.

Watch here on YouTube Live, here on Facebook live, or below.

New Report: Competition is Just a Click Away

A new report out from the Copia Institute highlights the failures of the current national broadband marketplace and the value of locally-driven connectivity solutions, while underscoring once again the potential for open access models to break entrenched monopoly power. Along the way, the report offers some useful ways of reframing our understanding of how we got to a place where Internet access is dominated by just a handful of companies across the United States.

Cities as Laboratories, and the Possibilities of Open Access

“Competition is Just a Click Away” covers a lot of ground. Its author - Karl Bode - is a veteran of the broadband policy space (including writing for ILSR recently), and has long helped shed light on the consequences in increasing monopoly power in the technology landscape.

In the report, he begins by laying out the problems borne from a lack of competition, including: the consequences of regulatory capture of the FCC by huge, for-profit companies, past and continued problems with mapping, and the resulting slower speeds, lack of investment, astonishing extraction of wealth, and worrying lobbying power enjoyed by monopoly providers, all fueled by increasingly high prices and the efficient extraction of wealth from communities to further concentrate market reach and lobbying power. 

An important early point made in the report is that, in the face of these realities, over the last fifteen years local cities have become “telecom laboratories where financial and technical innovation flourish, providing blueprints federal policy makers struggling to boost affordable broadband availability would be foolish to ignore.” Chattanooga and a handful of other city-owned and operated networks illustrate the power of communities to retake control of essential infrastructure.

The community broadband movement is an organic market response to market failure and the extractive power of unchecked monopolization.

Among the many results, the report points out, is that subscribers in the United States pay higher prices for slower service than many other places. But it doesn’t have to be that way, Bode reminds us.

Is High-Speed Internet Access Getting More Affordable, Really?

Written by Christine Parker and Ry Marcattilo-McCracken

A recent report by BroadbandNow made the rounds in February, with the authors concluding that the average price for broadband access across all major speed tiers for Americans has fallen, by an average of 31 percent or nearly $34/month, since 2016. At a glance, this is great news – perhaps affordable Internet access for all is within reach?

Readers following up to check out the report itself would be well justified in coming to the same conclusion, with BroadbandNow writing in the first paragraph that “we’ve found that prices have decreased across all major download speeds (25Mbps up to 1Gbps+) and technologies (cable, fiber, DSL and fixed wireless).” Immediate news coverage reinforced the report’s points.

But you don’t have to follow broadband policy closely to get the sense that something a little off is going on here. It feels like every day there’s a story like this one about Cable One, with a provider increasing speeds as it improves its network infrastructure and then raising rates while removing the slowest tier options. Charter and Comcast, for their part, do this nearly every year whether pairing it with speed increases or not. Is broadband access getting cheaper, or more expensive? What’s going on here?

The reality is that this report from BroadbandNow, unfortunately, poorly frames the national broadband marketplace. At best, it muddies the waters with a lack of clarity about the relationship between broadband access speed tiers and relative pricing. At worst, it leaves the average reader with the incorrect assumption that broadband prices must be falling, and gives the monopoly cable and telephone companies ammunition to push for millions more in taxpayer dollars while building as little new infrastructure as possible.

[Updated Report] Shopping for Broadband: Failed Federal Policy Creates Murky Marketplace

In November, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance published a report examining the transparency practices of Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Shopping for Broadband: Failed Federal Policy Creates Murky Marketplace [pdf] identified locally-controlled broadband networks as the most transparent around key service details.

Large ISPs, however, were found to be more likely to make information like upload speed and pricing difficult or impossible for potential customers to find. 

After the report’s original publication, a WISP advocate suggested that our fixed wireless sample may not appropriately represent the industry and requested that we review and re-issue our analysis with an alternative list of ISPs that have been more aggressive in pursuing federal funding and spectrum opportunities. These WISPs greatly outperformed our original sample, which was selected based on those claiming the largest population coverage.

New Set of WISPs Shows Better Transparency 

While many of the original WISPs failed to disclose basic pricing and service information, only two of the second set offered less than excellent information in all categories. The second set had less poor quality information and slightly more missing information than our set of cooperatively-run networks. Municipal networks remained the most transparent. 

Though many of the fixed wireless providers originally studied do seem to claim the greatest number of potential customers, we agree with some reviewers that they are not actually among the largest fixed wireless ISPs with the most subscribers. The new list of WISPs, which is included alongside the original one on the Broadband Transparency Rule Compliance Scorecard, may be a more accurate representation of providers’ transparency practices in this industry. 

The Problem(s) of Broadband in America

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As the Biden Administration is working with Senate Republicans and Democrats on a proposed infrastructure deal which now includes a $65 billion federal investment to expand broadband access, the details of how that money should be spent and where those investments should be targeted have yet to be decided.

In a new policy brief, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance looks to provide clarity for policy-makers by exploring the real challenges of America’s connectivity crisis. The brief aims to clear up a common misunderstanding of exactly where the digital divide is located.

Digital Divide is Not Urban Vs. Rural, It’s Both

It does so by explaining why high-speed Internet access is not a challenge confined primarily within rural America. A lack of fast, reliable, and affordable broadband is also a major problem in urban and suburban America.

As the brief details, millions of citizens could subscribe for service right now, if only they could afford it — but they cannot. In fact, most recent municipal broadband systems were built to resolve problems with monopoly excess, not the absence of broadband. Many of the places that appear from the DC as though they have gigabit services actually have unreliable networks that are not getting the job done.

The Case for Prioritizing Local Community Efforts

The brief further elaborates on how America’s connectivity crisis has been created by uncompetitive market conditions, a dilemma that actually presents three interconnected challenges: Access, Affordability and Adoption. 

Finally, the brief makes the case for why the federal and state governments should support local governments in resolving these challenges, rather than continuing to blindly hand out subsidies to the companies with the best government affairs' staff.

Read The Problem(s) of Broadband in America here [pdf].

Shopping for Broadband: Failed Federal Policy Creates Murky Marketplace

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Shopping for Broadband

Report updated in January, 2022.

A new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) examines Internet Service Providers’ (ISPs) transparency — or lack thereof — around the Internet service packages they offer. Shopping for Broadband: Failed Federal Policy Creates Murky Marketplace [pdf] finds that locally-controlled broadband networks are the most transparent around key service details. Large ISPs, on the other hand, are more likely to make information like upload speed and pricing difficult or impossible to find. 

Missing or unclear information is frustrating for anyone shopping for a new Internet service. It can make it especially difficult for low-income customers, who need to know pricing details (such as the difference between a service’s promotional price and standard monthly cost) in order to navigate the market and budget for service. Federal standards for transparency exist, but are not currently enforced in any real way by either federal regulation or market pressure.

Recently, Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which includes new information disclosure requirements for ISPs. To underscore the value of these requirements and the need for their proper enforcement, this report offers detailed analysis of 50 of the nation’s largest private wireless, private fiber, cable, municipal, and cooperative ISPs based on how clearly they disclose basic service and pricing information. Key findings include:

New Report: Failed Federal Policy Generates Customer Frustration in Broadband Marketplace

Frustrated while shopping for Internet service? Blame federal policy (and monopoly power). 

A new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) examines Internet Service Providers’ (ISPs) transparency — or lack thereof — around the Internet service packages they offer. Shopping for Broadband: Failed Federal Policy Creates Murky Marketplace [pdf] finds that locally-controlled broadband networks are the most transparent around key service details. Large ISPs, on the other hand, are more likely to make information like upload speed and pricing difficult or impossible to find. 

Missing or unclear information is frustrating for anyone shopping for a new Internet service. It can make it especially difficult for low-income customers, who need to know pricing details (such as the difference between a service’s promotional price and standard monthly cost) in order to navigate the market and budget for service. Federal standards for transparency exist, but are not currently enforced in any real way by either federal regulation or market pressure.

Recently, Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which includes new information disclosure requirements for ISPs. To underscore the value of these requirements and the need for their proper enforcement, this report offers detailed analysis of 50 of the nation’s largest private wireless, private fiber, cable, municipal, and cooperative ISPs based on how clearly they disclose basic service and pricing information. Key findings include: