News7 In Depth


Some Detroiters could be paying exponentially more than neighbors for same internet

Posted at 5:10 PM, Oct 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-31 22:48:31-04

HIGHLAND PARK, Mich. (WXYZ) — “Come talk to us. We’ll show you how it’s done. Come learn from us and take it back to your communities and get this job done,” said Dudley

A new study says Detroiters are being charged the same prices for very unequal internet service. The study by the nonprofit the Markup found some people are paying over 100 times more per unit of data than their neighbors, and the inequities often fall along socio-economic and racial lines.

7 Action News reporter Mike Duffy has been looking at the data.

“Internet is my life. It’s totally my life. It’s a lot of company for me as I have an empty nest,” explained Highland Park resident Charolette Ann Brooks.

Charolette Ann Brooks lives in Highland Park at LaBelle Towers, a senior community. The digital world became her whole world when her job went remote during the pandemic.

“Without internet, I wouldn’t have a job,” admitted Brooks.

She said her internet was fine until the price skyrocketed.

“One day I looked at the bill and it had really jumped and I’m like, ‘Uh oh. I’m in trouble,’” Brooks said.

She said she was paying more for nothing.

“Nothing had changed. Nothing had improved. No, the increase was definitely not worth it,” said Brooks.

Leon Yin is an investigative data journalist at the nonprofit The Markup and one of the main authors of the study.

“We found that four of the nation's largest internet providers practice a service called tier-flattening, where they charge the same price for drastically different speeds,” explained Yin.

Internet data is measure in megabits per second. Some customers in cities around the country were getting 1 megabit per second, others were getting 100 megabits per second.

All were paying the same price.

Some of the most egregious examples Yin and his co-author found were some customers paying 400 times as much for the same data.

“Across the 38 cities we looked at, 92% of them had disparities based on income, 2/3 had disparities based on race and ethnicity, and 100% of cities we looked at with historical redlining maps had disparities based on red lining,” said Yin.

So what about Detroit?

“The lower income areas of Detroit, if you’re to look at 100 random addresses, 50 of them would be offered the worst deals, speeds that are so slow, the FCC doesn’t consider it to be broadband,” explained Yin.

Keep in mind, they’re often paying the same rate as those in wealthier communities. Internet is not considered a utility, like gas, electricity, or the telephone, so it’s unregulated. Yin said people’s needs are not being met.

“It seems clear that the market is not able to account for these needs. And, the government is currently not regulating the deployment of these services. And so that’s when grassroots communities start creating what they need,” said Yin.

Fortunately, Detroit has people like Sheila Dudley, project manager for the Equitable Internet Initiative under the North End Woodward Community Coalition.

“We provide free high-speed internet to community… If you need it, we provide it, free of charge,” explained Dudley.

She said she was not surprised to hear about the findings from The Markup’s study which found such stark internet inequality.

“Being a black woman in America, and also coming up from the 60s and 70s, I always say, we’ve come a long way, but we have a hell of a way to go,” said Dudley.

She is clear about her take on internet service.

“I think it’s critically important on a whole lot of levels from our school age children to our seniors who are living in their homes,” Dudley explained. “The internet is not a luxury. It’s a necessity. It’s the way we communicate with the world.”

The Equitable Internet Initiative is so committed to providing high-quality internet access to the community, it has started installing its own lines.

“We just did our first fiber project in Hamtramck,” said Dudley.

Dudley said she hopes more communities will start seeing digital access the same way, and realize they have the power to do what service providers have failed to do.

She said underserved communities who believe high speed internet service is an impossibility should think again.

“Come talk to us. We’ll show you how it’s done. Come learn from us and take it back to your communities and get this job done,” said Dudley.