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Trayvon Martin Attorney Parks Targets AT&T Over Alleged Broadband Redlining

AT&T is being targeted with a lawsuit following accusations of broadband digital redlining.

Attorney Daryl D. Parks (he represented the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown) of Florida law firm Parks & Crump and attorney Walter Madison from Akron are representing families in Cleveland who allege they have been "severely impacted" by a lack of connectivity and want a meeting with AT&T top brass to talk about it.

They are threatening a lawsuit and Parks has written AT&T President Randall Stephenson asking for a meeting Friday at the AT&T shareholders' meeting in Dallas.

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Broadband access advocates the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) last month alleged that AT&T discriminated against low-income Cleveland neighborhoods in deployment of home internet and video over a decade.

It said it was basing that "digital redlining" charge on FCC data from June 2016, as well as "city construction permits and other information" that it says show the company "withheld fiber-enhanced broadband improvements from most Cleveland neighborhoods with high poverty rates – including Hough, Glenville, Central, Fairfax, South Collinwood, St. Clair-Superior, Detroit-Shoreway, Stockyards and others."

Parks said in the letter that the redlining was an invidious practice "copiously" documented by the NDIA report that had irreparably injured his clients. AT&T is trying to get its Time Warner merger through the Department of Justice, an approval that could be complicated by such a suit. In fact, among the threshold Parks talks about in his letter is whether AT&T's behavior is "relevant to its FCC character qualifications or its DOJ competitive qualifications to complete its merger with Time Warner?"

“We don't favor any demographic when it comes to providing any service we offer," AT&T said in response to the threatened suit. "The market for internet service has never been more vibrant and competitive, both wireless and wireline. We would like nothing more than to serve every customer in Cleveland that wants our services.”

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"The report does not accurately reflect the investment we've made in bringing faster internet to urban and rural areas across the U.S.," an AT&T spokesperson said when the initial allegations were leveled. "While we are investing in broadband, we’re also investing in technologies that will mitigate some of the infrastructure limitations."

An AT&T source speaking on background said that the company had invested $135 billion on wired and wireless networks between 2012 and 2016, including nearly $1.5 billion in its Ohio wireless and wired networks in 2013-2015, with more than $325 million of that in Cleveland.

They also said that the NDIA study, by focusing on only five areas, does not tell the whole story, which includes a low-income wireline broadband service to qualifying households that will get the fastest of five possible speed tiers at a significantly reduced rate – 10Mbps and 5Mbps for $10 a month, and 3Mbps, 1.5Mbps or 768Kbps for $5 a month.   

The announcement of the planned suit came the same day FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced a new diversity committee that will look into redlining among other issues.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.