Urban broadband deserts

Digital redlining is a policy, not an accident.

Cory Doctorow
Published in
4 min readJun 10, 2021


Detroit broadband map.

The Biden broadband plan set aside $100B to build out universal fiber; that number was way too low (it was derived from the fraudulent broadband maps the monopoly telcos produce).


The true figure is much higher ($240B!), and ::sad trombone:: the GOP whittled Biden down to $65B. It’s easy to see this as the GOP stabbing its rural base in the back (and yup, that’s what they’re doing), but there’s a LOT of urban broadband deserts.


Apologists for shitty broadband — and Musk cultists who insist that we can provide high speed broadband with satellites that all share the same, contested spectrum, physics be damned — say the US’s terrible internet is due to its vast open spaces, too spread out to wire up.

City dwellers are three times more likely to lack broadband access than their rural counterparts. This isn’t due to the bad economics of rural broadbandification, it’s due to structural racism and monopoly.


Writing in Wired, Bhaskar Chakravorti calls our attention to Detroit, Philadelphia, and Cleveland, racially segregated cities where redlining — the US government’s racist policy of excluding Black people from home ownership — casts a long shadow.


These cities have 14-point gaps between Black and white broadband access, part of a wider digital divide that includes gaps in participation in high-paid tech jobs and in the impact of the pandemic recession.


In Detroit, residents are “building their own internet…block by block” — trying to fix a city where 40% of the residents have no broadband options and the rest are on…