(BOSTON) October 26, 2015 – The nonprofit organizations that manage Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen have filed an emergency request with a Massachusetts state court asking it to stop the Sprint Corporation from its plan to shut off broadband access to more than 300,000 vulnerable Americans on November 6.
Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen currently provide unlimited broadband service for just $10 a month to 429 schools, 61 libraries and 1,820 nonprofit organizations across the country on Sprint’s WiMAX network. Many of these organizations, in turn, provide service to students, the elderly, the disabled and other segments of the population often not able to afford Internet service at the customary prices offered by commercial providers. Sprint’s plan to shut down the WiMAX network by Friday, Nov. 6 will leave many of these users without alternative means of Internet access.
“The costs of being disconnected are too great,” said Katherine Messier, managing director of Mobile Beacon. “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. We’re hearing from disabled adults that rely on our service to order groceries, pay bills, and monitor their prescriptions and medical information online. We are asking the court to preserve their lifeline to the world.”
Earlier this month, the nonprofit entities filed a lawsuit charging Sprint with failure to uphold its obligation to provide unlimited Internet service to Mobile Citizen and Mobile Beacon’s community . The urgency created by the impending WiMAX shutdown escalated the need for more immediate intervention, so the nonprofits have also filed a motion for an injunction.
The emergency relief being requested includes ordering Sprint to maintain the WiMAX network in certain areas for 90 days to allow Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen time to migrate their users to Sprint’s LTE network. The motion also asks the court to compel Sprint to stop throttling and otherwise diminishing the level of Internet service that is required under the contracts — two elements the nonprofit organizations say are essential to a successful transition to the LTE network.
“When a family is struggling to put food on the table, commercial Internet rates are simply not an option,” said Daniel Noyes, co-director of Tech Goes Home, which has provided 17,000 Boston residents with 21st century skills-development over the past five years, most of whom are people of color with household incomes of less than $20,000 a year. “If this service were to disappear, it would be devastating to the families and individuals that rely on it.”
“We need this important service to serve those who can most benefit from Internet connectivity but can least afford it,” said Michael Liimatta, chief executive officer of Connecting for Good, a Kansas City nonprofit that seeks to close the digital divide and has served more than 5,000 people over the past five years. Most of the people Connecting for Good serves are black women older than 50 who have children living with them who attend Kansas City Public Schools, where 70 percent of students do not have in-home Internet access. This population “would have difficulty finding other resources for their children to get online to do their schoolwork. And they will experience real hardship if they are unable to use the Internet for their own career and personal development, including searching for jobs online. Seniors will no longer be able to communicate easily with family members.”
The nonprofit entities that created Mobile Citizen and Mobile Beacon are among the largest Educational Broadband Service (EBS) providers in the United States. EBS refers to spectrum the Federal Communications Commission reserved to serve the public interest by providing wireless broadband services in support of education. The nonprofits that make up Mobile Citizen and Mobile Beacon leased a portion of their spectrum to Clearwire for 30 years in 2006 in exchange for the ability to provide unlimited, high-speed broadband service to schools, libraries and nonprofit organizations across the United States.
Sprint purchased Clearwire in 2013, but has failed to honor its contractual obligations under the various lease agreements, making it impossible for Mobile Citizen and Mobile Beacon to migrate their users over to Sprint’s LTE network prior to the November 6 deadline.
“Sprint has publicly professed a commitment to closing the digital divide,” said John Schwartz, the founder and president of Mobile Citizen. “It must stop this injustice and stand up for the hundreds of thousands of children, families, teachers and community members who will be shut out of the American dream if they don’t have access to the Internet. We are faced with a direct assault on our purposes and responsibilities as non-profit organizations devoted to service.”
A hearing on the preliminary injunction has been scheduled for noon on Tuesday before Suffolk Superior Court Judge Janet Sanders, 3 Pemberton Square, Boston, Courtroom 1017. Read the full legal filings online here.
About Mobile Citizen
Mobile Citizen offers mobile broadband service exclusively to nonprofits and schools at remarkably low cost. For more information, visit mobilecitizen.org. Mobile Citizen is funded by Voqal, a consortium of five nonprofit organizations committed to bringing technology to the education and nonprofit communities for over 25 years.
About Mobile Beacon
Mobile Beacon provides fourth generation (4G) mobile broadband services exclusively to schools, libraries and nonprofit organizations across the United States through an agreement with Sprint. Mobile Beacon was created by a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and the second largest national educational broadband service (EBS) provider in the country. We help educators and nonprofits get the Internet access they need and extend access within their communities to those who need it most. Learn more and visit Mobile Beacon at http://www.mobilebeacon.org, www.facebook.com/mobilebeacon, and www.twitter.com/mobilebeacon.