Houston Silicon Valley and its fans argue that tech is a tool enabled by the wonderful world of the internet. They aren’t totally wrong, though like all tools, tech and the internet, have to be used correctly of course. We all know that, right? We also are finding out more and more that these tools in the wrong hands for the wrong purpose, quickly become weapons.
When India went after its Muslim state and citizens in Kashmir, what did it do quickly? Turn off the internet. Zimbabwe dealing with civil strife and unhappiness with the economy responded to its people by doing what? Turning off the internet. We’ve seen turning the internet off and on frequently as a weapon used by countries to contain and coerce their citizens around the world.
In another way, we see the internet used as a weapon by big telecoms against the populations that need and depend on the service. An investigation by the Dallas Morning News found that AT&T, whose headquarters is in the Dallas area ironically, had weaponized access to the internet for profit. More than that, they had targeted lower income families and census tracts using access to the internet and its affordability as blunt instruments against the poor.
The paper found that AT&T determined where to establish faster internet by property values. Higher values, indicating higher incomes, got faster internet first. Lower property values got faster internet either later or not at all. There’s more though. AT&T also charged lower income customers in those areas more for the slower service than they charged those with higher valued locations.
Local 100 and ACORN in the US, Canada, and elsewhere have campaigned aggressively under the banner “Internet for All” to lower the digital divide. Amazingly, AT&T in Dallas, and likely other cities once these investigations spread, is not only profiting from the digital divide, it is building a digital wall with the rich on one side and the poor on the other.
Reading the Dallas Morning News article was not exactly a surprise to us. Several years ago (BT, before Trump) when the FCC had required Comcast to offer $10 per month internet access in acquiring Times-Warner, they touted this program on a voluntary basis to other companies. Our Dallas office was never able to get AT&T to respond or meet with us to join a similar program. Now, (AT, after Trump), there’s no mention of a voluntary or mandatory program.
AT&T is likely using a similar geo-placement strategy throughout the country. They are unlikely to be the only company practicing this scam on their customers and larceny against the poor. Will the FCC act? Unlikely. Will local public service regulators step into the breach? Let’s hope so.
This is outrageous!