Ten thousand low-income Philadelphians won’t lose broadband access at midnight tonight. A Massachusetts state court just bought them some time.
Those Philadelphians, who were among an estimated 300,000 nationally that would be affected, were in danger of losing internet access because of a dispute between Sprint and Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen, two nonprofits that provide affordable internet to nonprofits, libraries and schools.
We explained the issue in this earlier story, but the tl;dr version is this: Three years after purchasing CLEAR, Sprint planned to shut off the 4G WiMAX network that powers CLEAR on Nov. 6 because it had opted to focus on LTE instead. Sprint said it had transferred many of its CLEAR customers to the LTE network, but there were some holdouts, including Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen.
The nonprofits said that Sprint was making it difficult to transition over and that Sprint was going to unfairly slow their internet speeds after they used 6GB of data (previously, Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen customers had unlimited data). They sued Sprint over the matter late last month. That lawsuit is still ongoing.
Shortly after filing the lawsuit, the nonprofits filed for an emergency injunction to halt the Nov. 6 shutdown. They won the injunction today. That means they get 90 more days before Sprint shuts down the network. In the next 90 days, the nonprofits plan to transition their users over to the LTE network, said Mobile Beacon managing director Katherine Messier, but they’re still working out a longterm plan with Sprint.
“This is a huge, huge victory,” Messier said in a phone interview with Technical.ly. “We could not be happier.”
Sprint spokeswoman Stephanie Vinge Walsh said the company disagreed with the court’s decision.
“We hope that Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen will take this time to work cooperatively with Sprint to resolve the contract dispute,” she wrote. “We remain committed to an equitable solution for all parties and are hopeful that Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen will work with Sprint in good faith to get their customers transitioned so that they can remain connected.”
She added: “I think it’s important to note that Sprint has been a leader in providing internet connectivity for many years, including to schools, non-profits and the disadvantaged. At Sprint we believe in the power of the internet to change people’s lives for the better. We have demonstrated that belief for more than a decade through grants provided by Sprint Project Connect and through industry leading digital access programs, like ConnectED, ConnectHome. Sprint’s record of programs to bridge the digital divide proves it cares about ensuring as many customers as possible are connected at all times.”