A nationwide coalition of city leaders and advocacy groups are urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to investigate the practice of "digital redlining," which they said has resulted in a gaping digital divide that impacts communities of color the most.

In a letter dated Monday to acting FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel, the group of 98 leaders from 28 states and the District of Columbia said too many residents in majority-minority communities lack reliable high-speed internet access. They also criticized internet service providers (ISPs) for profiting "handsomely" during the coronavirus pandemic but not doing enough to improve access.

The signees called on the FCC to launch a commission focused on what they said was a trend of digital redlining, and to provide potential remedies. They also urged the FCC to reclassify broadband providers as common carrier services under Title II of the Communications Act, and so reinstate net neutrality rules. The latter move would prevent ISPs from capping speeds and data, the letter said.

The pandemic highlighted the vast digital divide that exists in the United States, not just between urban and rural communities but also within cities themselves. Experts have previously said the situation should serve as a catalyst for ubiquitous internet, in the same way the Great Depression highlighted the need for ubiquitous electricity.

But the signees noted the digital divide existed long before the pandemic and has left communities of color at a disadvantage, as a disproportionate amount of neighborhoods are not connected. Low-income families are further disadvantaged by data caps that add fees for higher usage. Local leaders said there are similarities with the 20th-century practice of redlining, wherein mortgage companies would deny minority populations home loans to buy houses in other neighborhoods and deny them funds to improve their current homes.

Read the full article about digital redlining by Chris Teale at Smart Cities Dive.