Sprint Ordered to Keep Nonprofits Broadband Network Running

A Massachusetts court ordered Sprint Corp. to hold off on shutting down a broadband network that nonprofit organizations use to provide inexpensive Internet.

The telecommunications company was planning to shut down its WiMAX network Friday, Nov. 6, but the nonprofits, who work through two projects called Mobile Citizen and Mobile Beacon, complained that Sprint hadn’t given them the opportunity to transfer their users to the LTE network.

The nonprofits filed their lawsuit Oct. 14, saying 300,000 low-income Americans could lose broadband access as a result.

John Schwartz, Mobile Citizen’s president said the injunction would force Sprint to keep its promise of “closing the digital divide.”

“It’s unfortunate it took a court order to stop Sprint from shutting off 300,000 children, families, teachers and community members from access to the American dream,” he said. “But we look forward to moving ahead positively with Sprint and ensuring that everyone in our community can keep the service they rely on to connect to the larger world around them.”

Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen say they serve 429 schools, 61 libraries and 1,820 nonprofit organizations, who receive the broadband for $10 per month. Mobile Beacon Managing Director Katherine Messier said in October that the connection to the WiMAX network was a “lifeline.”

“There are schools that rely on our service as their primary means of Internet access and risk being turned off in the middle of the school year,” she said. “We’re hearing from disabled adults that rely on our service to order groceries, pay bills, and monitor their prescriptions and medical information online.”

WiMAX was a product of Clearwire, which Sprint acquired in 2013.

The plaintiffs also alleged that Sprint has been using a special broadband plan for the nonprofits, according to court documents. The nonprofits have been licensed by the FCC as Educational Broadband Service channels, providing “wireless broadband services in support of educators and education,” according to court documents.

The plaintiffs argued that Sprint and Clearwire were required to provided “the best unlimited plan available to retail customers generally,” according to court documents.

“The Sprint broadband service plan that Clearwire and Sprint are imposing on

Licensees deliberately slows speeds down drastically from an average download speed of 6-8 Mbps to 256 Kbps after just 6 GB of capacity is used in a month,” the plaintiffs said in their filing.

Sprint spokeswoman Stephanie Vinge Walsh told Channel Partners last month that the company has gone “to great effort” to help transition accounts from WiMAX to LTE without cooperation from Mobile Citizen and Mobile Beacon.

“We have repeatedly made attempts to discuss with them how we can best meet their end users’ needs and resolve this matter,” she said. “But instead of working it out like reasonable partners, they chose to file a complaint.”

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