Austin activist Kina Collins. | Wikimedia

News that AT&T is seeking to merge its WarnerMedia content subsidiary with Discovery to create another entertainment behemoth dominated headlines in mainstream media outlets like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times last week. 

There was lots of analysis about how the deal might affect consumers and stockholders — there was a lot less analysis, however, about how the deal might affect workers and communities. 

I spoke briefly on Friday with Austin activist Kina Collins, a former congressional candidate widely recognized for her efforts on an array of social fronts — from working to end gun violence to ensuring a fair redistricting process. 

Collins’ thoughts on the broadband internet desert on the West Side were particularly striking considering and represented an overlooked dimension of the merger issue that most news outlets simply aren’t covering. 

According to a 2018 WBEZ analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, roughly 45 percent of households in Austin, West Garfield Park and North Lawndale don’t have internet. Collins’ brief comments helped me visualize what that looks like. 

On the digital equity divide 

How do we close this equity gap around the digital broadband desert in Austin? Look at the percentage of prepaid cellphone users and people who don’t have stable cell phone service in the Austin community. There’s a lot of nuance there. We have to solve the equity issue in Chicago as an urban center. 

I’m sitting in a coalition for redistricting that’s getting ready to happen (the coalition is called Change Illinois) and the question of rural communities came up, with respect to them not being able to testify in the Illinois Senate. 

But I’m like, ‘The reason y’all don’t have Austin, North Lawndale, Englewood, West Cook County and South Cook County is because they don’t have internet to tune in virtually to these meetings.’

On AT&T’s presence in an internet desert

AT&T’s building on Fulton and Leclaire is one of the biggest AT&T buildings. That is actually on my block, on the 200 block of LeClaire, and you’d be surprised how many families in that area don’t have internet service. An AT&T building is right on the block! So, this is a huge equity issue.