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Internet Service Not Equally Available to Los Angeles’s Poor, Report Says

The pandemic demonstrated how crucial it is to be connected to the Internet.

Without it, students couldn’t learn online, residents had a harder time scheduling COVID-19 vaccine appointments, and loved ones had a harder time keeping in touch.

But not everyone in Los Angeles County has the same access to the kind of high-speed broadband that makes these everyday tasks feasible. And 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.

In particular, the report alleges that Charter Communications, which operates Spectrum, offers lower prices for higher service speeds, along with better promotional offers, to residents of affluent neighborhoods compared to what is offered to low-income neighborhoods. . (Spectrum partners with the Los Angeles Times on a late-night TV show.)

The report said that Spectrum serves census tracts that cover about 97% of Los Angeles County. That coverage area may overlap with Frontier, which serves about 21% of Los Angeles County, and AT&T, about 15%.

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

Spectrum also offered a deal for that service for $30 a month with a guarantee the price wouldn’t go up for two years, but the offer was available only in census tracts with poverty rates between 2% and 19%, according to The report. The report said the researchers found no example of this arrangement in a high-poverty census tract.

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

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

“The reason most people don’t have internet at home is because it’s too expensive or what they can afford isn’t fast or reliable enough to make the investment worthwhile,” said Shayna Englin, director of the Foundation. California Community. Digital Equity Initiative and lead author of the report. “The places where it needs to be most affordable is actually where it’s least affordable.”

The report’s analysis was based on data collected three months ago and reconfirmed last week on Internet service provider websites after residential addresses were entered to purchase service. The researchers took screenshots of the service’s prices and options.

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

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

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

“Spectrum’s internet speeds are nationally consistent – we offer the exact same speed plans in every market we serve in 41 states,” Johnson said. “And we’re continually working to upgrade our network to deliver faster speeds, which we roll out to entire communities at once, not neighborhood by neighborhood.”

Spectrum, AT&T and Frontier highlighted their participation in the federal Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides monthly broadband discounts to qualifying low-income households.

Like Spectrum and Frontier, AT&T did not see the report before it was released, but said it had invested nearly $2.6 billion in the Greater Los Angeles region over a three-year period.

“We are committed to bringing fast and affordable connectivity to Los Angeles County consumers and businesses with standardized pricing based on the technology and service provided to the customer,” AT&T spokeswoman Megan Ketterer said in a statement sent by email. “Low and high income, rural and urban neighborhoods have the same price plan for comparable service available to them.”

Affordable and reliable broadband access is a long-term equity issue, said Paul Ongdirector of the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, who was not involved in the report.

“By the time our young people graduate from high school and go on to college or the job market, they will be at a huge disadvantage because we have moved to a system where we believe that access to computers, the Internet and broadband taken for granted. most people,” he said. “People who don’t have that access, they get left behind.”

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