On July 23, 2020, Public Knowledge convened a group of technology policy advocates to discuss an issue plaguing cities and towns nationwide – digital redlining. Across the country, internet service providers make strategic business decisions when allocating funds for improving or upgrading existing broadband infrastructure. Decisions rooted in a projected return on investment, anticipated subscribership, and general interest can create disparities in broadband deployment. 

Lukas Pietrzak, Next Century Cities’ Policy Associate, discussed how digital redlining can manifest itself in various ways related to price, availability, and reliability. Often, low income communities and communities of color do not benefit from the same frequency of network upgrades when compared to more affluent communities. As a result, residents in redlined communities do not have alternatives from aging or defunct infrastructure that cannot meet the needs of households to live, work, and learn. In the age of COVID-19, this problem is magnified. 

Other panelists, Angela Siefer, Executive Director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance; Maurita Coley, President and CEO of Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council; and Daiquiri Ryan, Strategic Legal Advisor at the National Hispanic Media Coalition and Co-founder at Neta Collab, unpacked this complex systemic issue. The discussion considered historical causes of digital redlining , the urgency to address digital literacy, and how the lack of investment contributes to underserved communities. 

Additionally, the panel explored how America’s networks have performed during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in low income communities. Analysis since March 2020 reveals that these aging networks are performing below their regular speed ranges and people’s careers, education, and health are suffering as a result. 

Panelists made recommendations to end digital redlining and close our nation’s persistent digital divide. Lukas suggested supporting federal legislation that would remove barriers to municipally supported infrastructure and networks, increasing awareness of existing and new broadband subsidy programs, and expanding the data currently collected by the Federal Communications Commission to include pricing and network performance were also offered as potential solutions. 

You can view a recording of the panel’s discussion here