Digital divide in Cleveland among worst in the country

Nearly 40% of homes don't have internet access
Posted at 5:07 PM, Sep 07, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-08 07:14:12-04

Living in the Stone Age - that is how some AT&T customers in Cleveland describe the quality of the internet service they’re getting from the communications giant.

The company is accused of failing to upgrade certain communities in the city with faster fiber technology.

Civil rights attorney Daryl Parks is representing three Cleveland women who he says live in neighborhoods with slow internet.


Cleveland residents file formal FCCcomplaint overalleged AT&Tredlining

Internet access advocates say AT&T is guilty of 'digital redlining' in some Cleveland neighborhoods

A divide? 

A map showing data released by AT&T to the Federal Communications Commission breaks down connection speeds. 

It clearly shows many of the suburbs in green with 18 mbps or more.

Inner-city neighborhoods like Glenville and Hough are colored pink with speeds 18 or less.

"We know who lives here. These are black people, these are people who may not have the wealthiest of jobs, these are the people who need the most opportunity. These are the underserved. This type of blatant discrimination isn't something we should see a company like AT&T,” said Parks.

AT&T responds

An AT&T spokesperson told News 5 the company does not redline. That's a process of denying services to poor communities. It also said its commitment to diversity and inclusion is unparalleled.

AT&T claims investment decisions are based on cost and demand and the company will vigorously defend itself against a complaint filed with the FCC.

Slow internet speeds are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the digital divide in our city.

No home connection

Turns out, many Clevelanders have no home connection at all.

With so much of what we do these days online, it is so shocking to learn about 40% of households in the City of Cleveland do not have internet access.

Nationally, that number sits at 15%.

There are several reasons we have so many people unable to stay connected at home.

Rachelle Lee is studying early childhood education at Cuyahoga County Community College. She told News 5 her AT&T internet connection is very slow.

“It takes forever to open up the page, to get online," said Lee.

Doing schoolwork at home is nearly impossible.

"I do go to the Woodland branch library," said Lee.

Lee is one of the plaintiffs in the complaint filed against AT&T.

Many people offline

"What AT&T does in the way of the service it provides is only one aspect of why people don't have internet service, or don't have good internet service in the city," said Bill Callahan.

Callahan is a researcher for the National Digital Inclusion Alliance.

"About 40% of all households in the city don't have home internet," said Callahan.

The cost is keeping many people offline, leaving them unable to apply for jobs, complete homework or monitor their health.

"It's leaving a very big part of our community behind," said Callahan.

The Cleveland Foundation is currently studying several different ways to help bridge the digital divide in Cleveland.

"As opposed to coming out with guns blazing and saying we're going to fund this, we're going to fund that," said Leon Wilson.

The foundation wants to improve internet access by building better neighborhood Wi-Fi.

"But access alone will not solve the problem. It's also about literacy," said Wilson.

More funding for training is also on tap to make sure those Clevelanders who need it most learn the digital skills they need to succeed.

"We're in the age of new technology and we're moving forward, so why should we still be in the past," said Lee.

Another problem News 5 uncovered is low-income seniors who have recently gone through computer training are still not able to connect to the internet.

Their free computers are collecting dust because they cannot afford internet service.