An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: When non-cable Internet providers -- outlets like ATT or Verizon -- choose which communities to offer the fastest connections, they don't juice up their networks so everyone in their service area has the option of buying quicker speeds. Instead, they tend to favor the wealthy over the poor, according to an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity. The Center's data analysis found that the largest non-cable Internet providers collectively offer faster speeds to about 40 percent of the population they serve nationwide in wealthy areas compared with just 22 percent of the population in poor areas. That leaves tens of millions of Americans with the choice of either purchasing an expensive connection from the only provider in their area -- typically a cable company -- or just doing the best they can with slower speeds. Middle-income areas don't fare much better, with a bit more than 27 percent of the population having access to a DSL provider's fastest speeds. The Center reached its conclusions by merging the latest Federal Communications Commission (FCC) data with income information from the U.S. Census Bureau. The non-cable Internet providers -- the four largest are ATT Inc, Verizon Communications Inc, CenturyLink Inc, and Frontier Communications Corp -- hook up customers over telephone wires that are Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL), or they use hybrid networks that include some fiber connections near (and sometimes directly to) homes. The Center included all types of connection in its analysis. These companies account for nearly 40 percent of the 92 million Internet connections nationwide. Cable companies, such as Comcast Corp and Charter Communications Inc, operate under a different set of conditions. These providers offer the same fast speeds to almost every community they serve, in part because of franchise agreements with local governments. But a previous Center investigation and other reports have shown that cable firms sometimes avoid lower-income or hard-to-reach areas based on how franchise agreements are written. Poor areas not served by the cable companies are not included in the Centerâ(TM)s analysis, which results in what seems like an equitable distribution of speeds across income levels. "Society said it did not matter if you could pay for electricity; we wanted everyone to have it. Society said we would not limit dial tone to those who could pay the most, we gave it to all," said telecommunications lawyer Gerard Lederer of Best Best and Krieger LCC in Washington, D.C., in an e-mail. "Broadband is quickly becoming that utility, and if applications only work at high speeds, then the universal availability of that speed must be the goal, otherwise you are providing everyone with water, just some of the water is not drinkable."