(Update - 11/6/2015) Massachusetts superior court judge, Janet Sanders, has granted an injunction to stop Sprint from shutting down portions of its WiMax network. The injunction compels Sprint to honor previous commitments to companies, such as Mobile Citizen, that offer services in the impacted communities. A 90-day window has been added to give the organizations more time to move users to the new LTE network. Hopefully, this will prevent the loss of internet access for those who would have otherwise been impacted.
The world is coming to an end. OK, maybe that's a bit extreme. But for 300,000 people tomorrow, it will certainly feel that way. Tomorrow, Sprint's WiMax network shutdown will leave several schools, libraries and communities without the Internet.
If you don't recognize the term, WiMax was a next-generation wireless technology that Sprint championed as an alternative to LTE cellular. Considering that every carrier is now using LTE, you can guess how it went. Still, it suddenly became a problem for a large number of people.
Fortunately, the shutdown won't be permanent. The connection will only be lost while Sprint retires the older WiMax system and updates to a new LTE standard system. The outage will go into effect at 12:01 Friday morning.
What's troublesome is that the areas impacted by this cut-off are already disconnected from technology, due to economic reasons. This means the cut will occur in areas that are already struggling. And it would be different if Sprint was merely improving the system to benefit these communities by offering better services, but that's not the case.
Many organizations were provided with the WiMax service at a discounted cost through companies called Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen. For these users, the service was just $10 per month. They relied on it. Because of this, representatives of Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen reached out to Sprint requesting that their users be moved to a different network before the big shutdown. They wanted to avoid any losses.
"We have disabled people who can't leave the house affected; we have students who can't do their homework affected. It's a real thing," says John Schwartz, founder and president of Mobile Citizen.
It's for this reason that representatives of Mobile Citizen are attempting to stall the changeover. On Tuesday, the issue was brought to a Massachusetts court. But after hearing arguments from both sides, the judge refused to rule on the measure that would delay the shutdown. A ruling is expected before the cut-off deadline.
So far, Sprint maintains that the issue is merely a contract dispute, and that the company is well within its rights. Nonprofit Internet providers, however, frame the dispute as one over Internet access to low-income communities. This could even be viewed as smaller companies being pushed around by the "big kids" on the playground.
If you really dive in, you'll see that the current conflict roots back to the 1980s. Back then, the Federal Communications Commission got involved with handouts of wireless spectrum parcels that were intended to benefit the education system.
Things got messy when a parent company of Mobile Citizen agreed to lease out the spectrum it controlled to an operator that was using the WiMax system. In return, the company was promised cash payments and access to the network and mobile hotspots.
Long story, short: The two companies are duking it out. But members of the affected communities are ultimately suffering.
"We're hearing from disabled adults that rely on our service to order groceries, pay bills, and monitor their prescriptions and medical information online," says Katherine Messier, a Mobile Beacon representative. She explains that their goals are simply to have Sprint honor the terms of their contract so they can provide services to the affected communities.
Considering Sprint has just launched a national advertising campaign stating, "We believe Internet access should be a basic human right," the tiff between these companies has ironic timing.
What do you think? Is Sprint wrong for making changes to its system, when there are low-income communities at stake? Let us know in the comments below.