Kansas City Residents Join National Petition Over Sprint's WiMax Internet Service

Nov 12, 2015

Kansas City area residents have joined a nationwide effort petitioning Sprint to keep offering internet for nonprofit organizations through its WiMax service.

WiMax provides low-cost, high-bandwidth internet access with no data caps through mobile hotspots. Providers Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen use the service to hook up schools and other nonprofits.

Sprint acquired WiMax along with telecommunications company Clearwire in 2013, and decided to shut down the service and migrate customers over to its LTE service instead.

Mobile Beacon founder Katherine Messier says that wouldn't be a problem, but Sprint only offers customers 6 GB of data through LTE before they "throttle," or slow down, Internet access.

"With a contract that goes over the course of 30 years, you need a standard that's going to be flexible," Messier said. "We feel comfortable with the [unlimited data] standard, and we know that we can't ask for something that would hurt Sprint, but we're not asking for that."

That means customers like Teri Smith, who pays $10 a month for Internet through Connecting for Good, would have to deal with much less data allowance every month. Smith says that's not an option.

"My husband is paralyzed and uses our home desktop, and I've also got our six-year-old grandchild who lives with us and two other grandchildren using the Internet," Smith said as tears welled in her eyes. "We can't afford anything else."

Petitioners went to Sprint's headquarters in Overland Park Thursday afternoon to deliver a petition to Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure against the WiMax shutdown.
Credit Cody Newill / KCUR

Smith joined more than 5,000 people who signed an online petition against the change. Residents, along with a representative for Mobile Citizen, took a paper copy of the petition to Sprint's headquarters Thursday afternoon.

In Kansas City, at least 150 families would be affected by the change, as well as charter school Academie Lafayette.

Messier and the petitioners say Sprint should honor the contract that Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen had with Clearwire, which offered unlimited data usage for a 30-year term. When it appeared Sprint wouldn't do that, both nonprofits filed a lawsuit on Oct. 14 asking courts to force Sprint to keep WiMax operational.

In response, Sprint filed a motion seeking a $65 million bond from Mobile Citizen and Mobile Beacon to make up for operating costs. Massachusetts judge Janet Sanders denied that request and ordered an injunction forcing Sprint to keep WiMax on for Mobile Citizen and Mobile Beacon for another 90 days on Nov. 5.

In the meantime, Sprint has appealed the court's decision. Marci VerBrugge-Rhind with Sprint's Corporate Relations department says the corporation views the issue as a contractual dispute and doesn't harbor any ill will towards Mobile Citizen or Mobile Beacon customers.

"For at least a year-and-a-half, Sprint has been working with Mobile Citizen and Mobile Beacon to ensure they could transition their customers to the high quality LTE network," VerBrugge-Rhind said in a statement. "Ultimately this is a contract dispute and we hope they will work cooperatively with us to resolve it."

Cody Newill is a reporter for KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @CodyNewill or send him an email at cody@kcur.org.