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4GCommunity’s Sprint-Powered 4G LTE Service Shutting Down

Phillip Dampier October 23, 2017 Broadband "Shortage", Consumer News, Data Caps, Rural Broadband, Sprint, Wireless Broadband 7 Comments

4GCommunity.org, a non-profit provider of unlimited 4G LTE wireless internet service, is ending the service by Nov. 30, 2017 for “circumstances beyond the organization’s control.”

The service cost $250 for the first year, which included a mobile hotspot device, and $168 each year thereafter, which means many subscribers that started in the past year may lose some or all of their annual fee as the service closes down.

The company e-mailed its members this morning:

Dear 4GCommunity.org Members,

We are saddened to inform you that due to circumstances beyond the organization’s control the Internet connectivity benefit of membership will be ceasing no later than November 30, 2017. It may be sooner, so please begin looking for other Internet connectivity options right away.

The member online support center will remain a resource through this time next year. Member and support team volunteers will be providing their general assistance through the online support center to assist with questions about basic home computing, networking, and related technologies. It can be accessed through the Support Center page of the website, or directly at: https://4gcommunityorg.happyfox.com/

Respectfully yours,

Support Team

Sprint was 4GCommunity’s 4G service provider, and was potentially not enthusiastic about the partnership.

4GCommunity.org is one of several non-profit groups that have taken advantage of an agreement made years earlier with Clearwire, a company acquired by Sprint in 2013.

Non-profit groups offering inexpensive 4G wireless internet service are exploiting a loophole in a 2006 contract agreement between Clear (now owned by Sprint) and Educational Broadband Service licensees.

In 2006, Clearwire reached an agreement to lease wireless spectrum earmarked for Educational Broadband Service (EBS) providers including Mobile Citizen and Mobile Beacon. In return for the use of those frequencies, Clearwire agreed to sell wireless internet service on its WiMAX network at rock bottom prices to those two providers, their non-profit affiliates and dues-paying members. As a result, more than 1,800 nonprofits, 429 schools, and 61 libraries signed up for service at prices averaging $10 a month. A few of those non-profits creatively exploited a loophole in the agreement which guaranteed access “as long as you are a user, recipient or beneficiary of a non-profit programs or services, but not thereafter.” That provision was interpreted to mean non-profit groups attached to either Mobile Citizen or Mobile Beacon could resell the service to their own members.

A groups have turned up, including 4GCommunity.org, typically offer access to unlimited 4G LTE data on Sprint’s network for an annual fee. 4GConnection effectively charged only $14 a month after the first year. The service has been especially popular with those within Sprint coverage areas, but outside of range for DSL or cable broadband. It also attracted a large number of RV owners and frequent travelers looking for portable internet access.

Sprint and other wireless companies have had experience with all kinds of resellers before. Historically, many of those providers offering unlimited data have been suddenly notified their contract to resell service was canceled or modified, usually after the carrier discovered a surge in traffic and usage it did not originally expect.

4GCommunity did not reveal the specific reasons for the decision to cancel its internet offering, but does suggest the termination is connected to Sprint. The decision is causing customers to scramble to find a new service provider. Selling low-cost internet plans that depend on one of the four major carriers has proven a risky business for providers and customers, because a carrier can put a provider under just by canceling a service agreement.

4GCommunity obviously understood the risks of having their provider drop them, placing this warning (emphasis theirs) in their service agreement:

You understand your support and membership in the organization is not a guarantee of any particular benefit for any duration of time.  You understand you are supporting an organization mission.  You understand we reserve the right to cancel any Internet connectivity Service as a member benefit at any time without notice, for any reason.  You understand that your membership charges may not be refunded or prorated if the Internet connectivity benefit is terminated or modified regardless of reason at any time.   

Customers may be less forgiving, especially if they recently paid several hundred dollars for a year of service that may not be refunded.

Similar resellers still appear to be offering service, but potential customers should be cautious and not assume other service provision contracts won’t be similarly canceled. A customer could be out up to $679 if a service later disappears.

  • Calyx Institute – Membership costs $500 the first year, which includes wireless mobile hotspot service. The renewal rate is $400.
  • Freedata.io – First year prices range from $449 – $679 for three different tiers of service offering different hotspot devices (currently showing as out of stock) and different options to access 3G service, which can be more reliable in rural/fringe reception areas. The service has also been battling with its small business payment processors, which suggests this is a very small operation.
  • PCs for People & Connectall.org – Provide service to those below the 200% poverty level or currently enrolled in an income-based government assistance program. Proof of income required.

One of the few remaining unlimited wireless data providers unlikely to be affected by these developments is Unlimitedville, which offers a variety of expensive plans that correspond to the carrier providing the service. The “Yellow” plan, powered by Sprint, is $99 a month. The “Pink” plan, powered by T-Mobile, is $149 a month. A “Blue” plan offering service from AT&T costs $199 a month, and a “Red” plan using Verizon’s network is $249 a month. All of the plans are free of caps and speed throttles and offer 4G LTE data without hotspot restrictions, but require a one-time $99 “membership fee.”

Currently there are 7 comments on this Article:

  1. kaniki says:

    “As a result, more than 1,800 nonprofits, 429 schools, and 61 libraries signed up for service at prices averaging $10 a month. ($120 per year) ” and they charge “$168 each year” to each person they sell it to??

    So correct me if I am wrong, but sprint pays for all equipment, upgrades, etc., Basically, they pay all of the costs for everything to run, make no profit off of the service, then, some organization comes in, sells that service for a profit, does things to make themselves a “non-profit” (high salaries maybe??, if not, then where is the money going??), all while having really no upkeep costs, and now, people are unhappy that the people that are making nothing off of it, but doing all the real work, are dropping it??

    I think I could see why they are discontinuing the service.. Especially when you consider the drag on their network from unlimited use.. Don’t get me wrong, but there are people out there that are using hundreds of gigs of data per month (verizon proved this years ago when they started downgrading people at 100 Gb, then went to 50, then..) .. Since these are plans that are unlimited, with no restrictions, it would not surprise me if most people used over 30 gigs (if not more) each, on average.. I can just imagine what kind of impart that has on their network.. and with no profits from it either..

    • Fred says:

      No doubt the organization was a scam, abusing Sprint. However, customers didn’t necessarily know this, and it sucks for them to get ripped off to the tune of a few hundred dollars.

      It’s unlikely all their customers were abusing the service… LTE just isn’t as fast or consistent as wired, particularly on Sprint, so it’s not well suited to streaming highdef Netflix. And other long running processes have much more risk of being interrupted partway through. Abs of course they can be throttled anger the first 20GB. Heavy users would find it frustrating and unacceptable, unless they had absolutely no other option.

      It was a great fit for lower usage users, however, perhaps the cheapest way to get internet service, and a tremendous improvement over satellite internet where nothing else was practically available. It’s a shame all cellular companies aren’t required to offer something like it… throttling could start immediately, so it would be low speed where there is congestion, but high speed wherever the towers are under capacity. It would cost almost nothing to provide, it just wouldn’t be highly profitable for them.

      • kaniki says:

        I agree.. But not just with sprint.. There are a lot of people that are out in the country, suburbs, etc where there is no internet available, other then dial up. I think something like this, would be great for them.. That is, if the price was right.. Even if they limited it to a certain amount of gigs, I think it would work for a lot of people, as long as the price was right.. Here for example, the lowest priced high speed internet is $65 month, plus lease fees.. Spectrum took over, and eliminated all plans under $50, so now, there is no low cost internet.. If you have to lease a modem, you are talking $73 a month.. Ridiculous for someone that may just check emails, etc.. If they could do something like this, and it only cost them, say, $20-25 a month, I think a lot of people would jump on it.. Even if you limited it to a certain amount of gigs..

        But, it is as you said.. These companies were abusing the fact, all because of a loop hole.. Whether they knew it or not, I am sure that anyone with a little common sense, would think something was off, getting unlimited high speed internet access for $14 a month.. But, in the end, people probably just do not care, as long as it is cheap for them.. But, I just do not see why companies (sprint, AT&T, Tmobile, etc) could not start something like this up for their customers that do not need phone service.. Just internet..

    • I do not know if Sprint pays for everything. Clearwire desperately wanted the spectrum, so they cut a deal to lease it from those awarded it, something that would have cost far more to acquire outright than what these folks are doing/costing Sprint. Most of these users (probably a few thousand at most) are in rural areas using light duty cell towers, so I don’t think they are a big congestion problem either. The only people really aware of this were in rural areas and RV users. If you live in an urban area and use Sprint, I’ll bet you wouldn’t want to depend on this even at $10 a month. Sprint’s network performance has always been frustrating in these areas.

      Loophole exploitation yes, but do providers overcharge their own customers? Sure do.

      • kaniki says:

        I can not say if RV users are the only ones or not, but, I can say this. RV usually means you travel around. Travel around usually means you use the service in all type of locations, which include, city and rural.. As for depending on this, and bandwidth used.. These are just a few of the comments I found about them.. After reading them, I can not really say that most of the users are getting poor signals, or, on light duty towers.. Read them, and use your own judgement..

        “I play rocket league with 60 to an occasional 120 ping. I’ve used 500 gbs in a month with no issues. Terabyte is where they say they’ll cut you off but some people have reported doing this with no peep from anyone.”

        “Just did a speed test and 23.47Mbps down and 5.62Mbps up.”

        “I used 480 gbs last month. So no cap.”

        “I’ve used it to download podcasts at work every day for a few weeks now. I’m talking about 0.5-1GBish 5 days a week… I’m sitting at 4.58GB with 26 days left in the cycle”

        “I used this as my family’s sole home wifi for a month or 2 and bused a few hundred GB.”

        “Been streaming Netflix and Amazon Video over it for multiple hours a night”

        I would say that these comments about say it all, and why this is happening..

  2. Lee says:

    The result of a loophole in the contractual agreement. No one would allow a user the right of unlimited resales with no oversight or control.

    • kaniki says:

      But that is just it.. They are doing it as a “membership fee”, just like at a night or dance club. They only sell the equipment, and a small membership fee. They do this to get around that clause. I am sure that they did put clauses in there, so that they could back out at any time too. They probably kept it up to look good in the communities eyes, but, when some people started going crazy with it, they probably said, enough is enough. Like they say, it only takes one bad apple to ruin the bunch, and I have read a LOT of comments about people using it, and going though 50, 100, 200 gigs of data a month. I am not saying it is a majority, but, when one person is using as much data as 20 other people, I am sure that made them take notice very fast.

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