Early next month, the popular mobile wireless hotspots that patrons of the Brookfield Public Library have been able to check out will no longer work.
That’s because on Nov. 6, Sprint Corporation is shutting down the WiMAX network that the hotspots use.
Brookfield Public Library Director Kimberly Coughran is hoping that Sprint will reconsider.
“Clearly the need is there in our community and other communities,” Coughran said. “We along with Forest Park, Oak Park, Stickney, Forest View and scores of other libraries offer this wonderful initiative for our residents and residents in all these communities will be impacted by the libraries not being able to offer it.”
Sprint is in a dispute with non-profits Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen, which in turn sell the unlimited wireless access to libraries and other nonprofits at the very cheap rate of $10 per device per month.
The Riverside Public Library had been planning to offer hotspots for check out soon, but has delayed the program until the dispute is resolved, according to Library Director Janice Foley.
“We’re hoping by the new year to do it,” Foley said.
The Brookfield Public Library has 25 mobile wireless hotspots that patrons can check out for one week at a time. They have been popular items. In September, the hotspots were checked out 99 times and in August they were checked out 111 times.
The Brookfield Public library buys broadband access for its wireless hotspots from the Rhode Island-based nonprofit Mobile Beacon.
Mobile Beacon and a company called Mobile Citizen had contracts with a firm called Clearwire that allowed Clearwire to use space on their wireless communication network in return for access to Clearwire’s broadband network.
A couple of years ago Clearwire was acquired by Sprint, and now Sprint is deactivating the old Clearwire broadband network in order to transition customers to its new 4G LTE network.
As part of the change, Sprint apparently wants to change the terms of the Mobile Beacon agreement and is no longer willing to offer unlimited data usage.
Earlier this month, organizations that Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen serve sued Sprint in Massachusetts to try and prevent Sprint from shutting down the broadband network. They have also contacted clients, such as the Brookfield Public Library, asking them to sign and pass on a petition to persuade Sprint not to shut down the network.
“Sprint, very unfortunately, is not taking school, library, nonprofit considerations seriously,” Coughran said. “We are hoping that Mobile Beacon, and the public at large, can assist us in convincing Sprint that it should continue the existing program.”
However, a spokeswoman for Sprint claims that Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen are the problem and that they have refused to reach any agreement in what the spokeswoman called a contract dispute.
“For about a year and a half we have working with Mobile Citizen and Mobile Beacon to try and ensure that they could transition their customers to the new LTE network,” said Stephanie Vinge-Walsh, a public relations manager for Sprint. “But rather than negotiate a resolution to this contract dispute with us they’ve chosen to not transition their customers and as a result they’re intentionally risking their customers getting disconnected.”
Walsh-Vinge said Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen are using scare tactics to try and resolve a commercial dispute.
“This is part of a massive investment by Sprint to enhance and improve broadband service across the U.S.,” Vinge-Walsh said.
Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen are known as Educational Broadband Service (EBS) providers and own part of the WiMAX spectrum that Sprint, and before that Clearwire, leases.
“We pay them for the use of that spectrum to operate our network,” Vinge-Walsh said. As part of the deal Sprint also gives the licensees free mobile broadband.
Sprint has already transferred about 85 percent of its EBS licensees, but Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen are holdouts, Vinge-Walsh said.
Sprint wants to be able to throttle back access speeds after a hotspot uses six gigabytes of space and no longer wants to give the nonprofits unlimited data plans.
Vinge-Walsh wouldn’t comment directly about plans to eliminate unlimited data usage.
“We disagree with their interpretation of the contract that they are entitled to something uniquely superior to what every other EBS partner currently has,” Vinge-Walsh said.
Brookfield Library is researching other alternatives, but it will have to stop lending out the mobile hotspots early next month as they hope that the dispute can be settled.
“We are researching other options,” Coughran said. “What’s very difficult is the fact that this was unlimited data.”