Sprint will have to keep its WiMax network running in parts of Massachusetts for at least 90 days now that the state has granted a preliminary injunction against the carrier. The move was made in response to a lawsuit filed by Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen with regard to 300,000-plus non-profit and educational users who currently purchase broadband service from Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen.
The service operates on the Sprint WiMax network, which was deployed on Educational Broadband Services (EBS) spectrum licensed to non-profit entities that own Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen. Sprint acquired the WiMax network when it bought Clearwire several years ago. Clearwire had made a deal with Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen to use their spectrum in exchange for offering discounted wholesale pricing on wireless service.
Now that the U.S. telecom industry has essentially standardized on LTE service for 4G wireless connectivity, Sprint plans to shut down the WiMax network and to repurpose underlying spectrum to support LTE. Those plans were jeopardized when Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen last month asked the state of Massachusetts to intervene.
The key issue appears to be the inability of the parties to agree on terms of service moving forward. According to Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen, Clearwire in a 30-year agreement said it would offer unlimited high-speed broadband service to schools, libraries and non-profit organizations in exchange for the use of the spectrum.
Sprint WiMax Shutdown
A Sprint spokesperson argued that when the FCC in July 2013 approved Sprint’s acquisition of Clearwire, it did so in part because of “the ‘public interest’ benefits of Sprint’s planned upgrade of the Clearwire WiMax network to LTE.” The spokesperson argued that Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen participated in the FCC proceeding and were aware of the planned transition.
“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 broadband service on the LTE network,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to Telecompetitor. “Rather than negotiate a resolution to the contract dispute, Mobile Citizen and Mobile Beacon chose not to transition their customers to LTE. We disagree with their interpretation of the contract that they are entitled to something uniquely superior to what other EBS partners currently have.”
As for what action Sprint may take with regard to the injunction, the spokesperson said “We plan to continue to protect our rights in this contract dispute and expect to prevail on the merits,” also noting that the company hopes Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen will work with Sprint in “good faith” to get customers transitioned to LTE.
In a statement, Mobile Citizen and Mobile Beacon accused Sprint of using “delay tactics,” also noting that “we intend to devote all of our efforts to transitioning our community over to the new network, so long as Sprint finally . . . starts working with us.”
In a statement emailed to Telecompetitor, Mobile Citizen Founder and President John Schwartz said that according to Sprint, the carrier’s LTE network covers more of the U.S. population than its WiMax network does. He added, though, that “we are told that there are certain places (generally rural) that the WiMax network reaches that [do] not yet have LTE service.”