Sprint must continue to support WiMAX network through early 2016, denied $65M bond

Sprint received a setback in its latest attempt to turn off its WiMAX network, with a Massachusetts state court judge rejecting the carrier’s request for a temporary suspension of a previously issued preliminary injunction requiring the carrier to keep the network running through early 2016.

A court ruled last week that Sprint must maintain its WiMAX network for at least another 90 days in support of more than 300,000 customers still using the network to access the Internet. That decision was based on a lawsuit filed last month by firms Mobile Citizen and Mobile Beacon, which claim to provide affordable broadband service to 300,000 customers, including 429 schools, 61 libraries and 1,820 nonprofit organizations.

The state court also soundly rejected a motion from Sprint looking to require a $65 million bond from Mobile Citizen and Mobile Beacon to cover the costs of running the WiMAX network over a 90-day period. The two nonprofit firms are part of larger education groups leasing the 2.5 GHz spectrum assets to Sprint, which is being used to power the WiMAX network and portions of Sprint’s LTE network.

“Leaving aside that defendants’ motion does not constitute an emergency and should be denied on that basis alone, defendants have not remotely demonstrated that their requested $65 million bond has any legal or factual basis,” the Massachusetts Superior Court rules. “Instead, it is apparent that defendants’ ‘emergency’ request for a $65 million bond is not intended to protect its reasonable financial interests; rather, it is a tactic designed to undermine the injunction entered by the court and thereby make it impossible for the plaintiffs to migrate their user base to LTE without a service interruption, which was precisely what the court’s order was designed to foster.”

The legal tussle appears to be about the details of the agreement with Clearwire, which, depending on the party interpreting the details, states Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen will have access to unlimited and unthrottled data services. Clearwire had previously offered unlimited data access through its WiMAX-enabled mobile broadband devices, though with the caveat of potential speed throttling should a customer be deemed to be exceeding normal usage. Sprint does not currently offer unlimited data access for its LTE-based mobile broadband devices, and recently said it would begin to deprioritize smartphone customers on unlimited data plans should they exceed 23 gigabytes of usage per month and be connected to a congested cell tower.

Sprint announced in April 2014 plans to shut down the WiMAX operations by Nov. 6, 2015. Sprint inherited full control over the operations when it acquired the entire stake of Clearwire in 2013.

Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen said they hope to use the 90-day extension to facilitate the transfer of their current WiMAX customers to Sprint’s LTE network.

“We hope Sprint will stop dragging its heels and work with us to ensure our 300,000 children, families, teachers and community members can keep their broadband access and their communications lifeline,” said John Schwartz, founder and president of Mobile Citizen.

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