Joanne Elkins, a visually impaired African-American woman from Cleveland, spent $1,500 on a home security system then discovered that because her AT&T broadband service was so slow, the system wouldn’t work.

That’s one of the claims in a complaint filed Aug. 24 with the Federal Communications Commission against the telecommunications giant, that alleges AT&T provides slower internet speeds to poor communities than wealthier ones across the country.

AT&T denied the claims in the complaint, and promised to defend itself vigorously against the allegations.

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Another African-American resident of Cleveland, Hattie Lanfair, said her daughter, a teacher, can’t visit overnight during the school year because her AT&T broadband service is too slow for her to download homework materials.

The third Cleveland complainant, Rochelle Lee, said when her grandchildren come over, they can’t stream videos or play games because of AT&T’s “painfully slow” internet service.

The women’s FCC action charges AT&T with  “a pattern of long-term, systematic failure to invest in the infrastructure required to provide equitable, mainstream internet access to residents of the central city (compared to the suburbs) and to lower-income city neighborhoods,” according to the complaint.

The inequity in internet speed is a cross-country problem, the complaint alleged, citing research that concluded that in AT&T-served areas where households make $81,000 or more, 85 percent of people can buy fast broadband from the company, but in areas where household incomes are less than $35,000, they can’t.

What’s being claimed is commonly known as “redlining,” which refers to deliberate decisions by internet providers to provide better service to wealthier neighborhoods.

The complaint pointed to a report by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, which blamed the alleged problem on AT&T’s failure to comprehensively extend infrastructure called “Fiber to the Node” to poorer Cleveland communities, “including the overwhelming majority of blocks with individual poverty rates above 35 percent.”

AT&T strongly denied the accusations.

“We do not redline,” a company spokesman said in an email Aug. 25.

“Our commitment to diversity and inclusion is unparalleled. Our investment decisions are based on the cost of deployment and demand for our services and are of course fully compliant with the requirements of the Communications Act. We will vigorously defend the complaint.”

Photo: AT&T’s company logo on a building (JeepersMedia/flickr)

Tags: AT&T, broadband, Cleveland, fcc, Federal Communications Commission, internet, Internet speed, redlining, speed