Our investigation “Still Loading” is the culmination of an eight-month effort that began with an attempt to see what speeds and prices internet service providers were offering to households across the country. In the process, it transformed into something even more urgent: an exposé revealing how a quartet of telecom giants had neglected to upgrade their networks with high-speed infrastructure in socioeconomically disadvantaged and racially diverse neighborhoods.
Still Loading found that four major national internet service providers (ISPs) disproportionately offered lower-income, least-White, and historically redlined neighborhoods slow internet service for the same price as for speedy connections in other parts of town. We produced the first nationwide disparate impact analysis of the speeds and prices internet service providers offered directly to consumers, and we’re the first to show where inequitable effects of tier flattening (charging internet customers the same rate for differing levels of service) have occurred.
The people who live in neighborhoods offered the worst internet deals aren’t just being ripped off; they’re being denied the ability to participate in remote learning, well-paying remote jobs, and even family connection and recreation—ubiquitous elements of modern life. The worst part: Until The Markup published its investigation, the customers receiving the worst deals had no idea.
To pull this off, Aaron Sankin manually tested the websites of all the major internet service providers to determine which engaged in this pricing scheme, while Leon developed custom-built software to collect data from each service providers’ website. To show what was happening, we had to collect more detailed data than what the FCC had received from telecom companies themselves.
Additionally, our reporters are now key experts on the digital divide, and we believe their work was the first nationwide address-level mass survey of internet speeds of internet speeds and prices released publicly anywhere.
Our reporters also made extensive efforts to share their findings and methodology with those impacted by the digital divide by facilitating original reporting in nine local news outlets, and releasing a guide that empowers anybody with a computer and internet access to collect a representative sample of internet plans and test for disparities.
A nearly perfect example of what modern technology journalism can be. The Markup’s exposure of the lasting consequences of geographic inequality in nearly every major American city is both deeply reported and elegantly displayed. It has the potential for real impact by taking its thesis out of the abstract and providing easy-to-use tools that connect that thesis directly to the reader’s life. In an extremely competitive category, the utility and user experience of this project helped it stand out among excellent peers.