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San Jose Mayor Quits FCC’s Industry-Stacked Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee

Liccardo

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo has resigned from the Federal Communications Commission’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC), claiming the panel has been stacked with telecom industry players that will advocate for the interests of the telecom industry, not the public.

“It has become abundantly clear that despite the good intentions of several participants, the industry-heavy makeup of BDAC will simply relegate the body to being a vehicle for advancing the interests of the telecommunications industry over those of the public,” Liccardo wrote in his resignation letter.

The corruption was baked in from the earliest days of the BDAC, originally created by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in January 2017 to help resolve the digital divide between those who have access to internet service and those who don’t. BDAC was charged with providing advice and recommendations on how to accelerate the deployment of high-speed internet access. Pai used the BDAC partly as a front group to advocate for his own long-standing goal of reducing or eliminating what he believes are regulatory barriers to infrastructure investment.

Controversy erupted almost immediately as the BDAC member nomination process began. Pai and his staff packed the 30-member group with telecom industry corporate executives, trade groups, and free market scholars frequently funded or sponsored by telecom companies. According to the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), the FCC initially accepted only two of the 64 city and state officials nominated to serve on a committee that was likely to recommend major changes to local and state zoning and permitting laws. Liccado was one of the two.

CPI filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the FCC to force the agency to divulge detailed information about applicants and those approved to serve as panel members. They found three out of four members appointed worked for big telecom companies like AT&T, Comcast, Sprint, and TDS Telecom. Crown Castle International Corp., the nation’s largest wireless infrastructure company, and Southern Co., the nation’s second-largest utility firm, also have representatives on the panel. The “broadband experts” chosen as members largely came from conservative think tanks that have industry funding ties or connections with wealthy conservative donors like the Koch Brothers.

Liccardo sensed trouble on the committee as early as last August.

“It’s not lost on us that among the 30-odd members of the BDAC, only two represent local government,” Liccardo said. “We’ll see where things go in the weeks ahead, but it’s fair to say the footprints are in the snow.”

Gary Carter, who works for the city of Santa Monica, Calif., where he oversees City Net, one of the nation’s oldest publicly owned networks, thought he would be the perfect candidate to serve on the BDAC. The FCC didn’t think so.

“When I called [the FCC] to check on the status of the BDAC selection process [earlier this year] and identified myself as an employee from the City of Santa Monica, the gentleman on the phone laughed hysterically,” Carter said. “At first I didn’t get the joke. When I saw the appointees for the municipal working group—only three out of 24 positions were from local government—I got the joke.”

The corruption has not been a surprise to one telecommunications executive serving as a BDAC member. He candidly told CPI the committee was purposely “stacked” to guarantee findings and proposals that echo Pai’s anti-regulatory agenda.

“It’s definitely stacked towards private enterprise,” said the executive, who requested anonymity due to fear of retaliation from FCC officials. “It’s nothing new. The [current] FCC serves private enterprise.”

Nick Degani, senior counsel to the FCC and Pai’s wireline legal advisor, told BDAC members at a July meeting that only a few city officials were chosen because they are the ones that need guidance, not telecommunications companies.

City and state officials locked out of Pai’s panel warn that BDAC recommendations could soon lead to new rules that will ignore local residents’ wishes in favor of the interests of cable, phone, and wireless companies. Recommended rule changes could allow telecom companies to gain free or very low-cost access to public buildings on which it can place cell towers or the small cells that will end up on utility poles. Much of the equipment the industry wants to place threatens to clutter neighborhoods with unsafe, overloaded utility poles and some new infrastructure could block scenic views or be placed in sensitive environmental areas.

CPI spoke with many local officials who asked to participate as a member of BDAC, but were turned down:

“There are reasons you have to get a permit if you want to dig up the side of the street,” said David Frasher, city manager of Hot Springs, Arkansas, who also was nominated—but turned down—for a seat on the BDAC.

“The city needs to know if you’re going to block traffic or create a hazard to sidewalk users,” Frasher said. Maybe there’s a way to streamline those regulations, “… but with only 10 percent city government representation, how helpful will the end product be?”

The FCC also didn’t choose David Guttenberg, member of the Alaska state legislature. He said service providers writing local rules for internet deployment makes him fear for Alaskan residents, many of whom have such poor wireless service that they have trouble downloading emails.

“They [telecommunications companies] are only going to look after their own self interests,” Guttenberg said. “Find me the guy that works for telecommunications on this committee that’s going to sign onto a plan telling their business to do something they don’t want to do. Find me that guy.”

What Pai has done by packing the panel with industry representatives is, in the end, “pretty standard in Washington,” said Sarah Treul, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “The FCC expects certain outcomes from this advisory committee.”

Pai

That point was not lost by San Jose Mayor Liccardo, who finally had enough after witnessing several cases of BDAC’s industry members wielding veto power and unilaterally rewriting collaborative proposals to fit the agenda of large cable and phone companies.

“One working group, which did not have a single municipal representative among its 30+ participants, created a draft model state code that included provisions to eliminate all municipal control over when, how, and whether to accept industry applications for infrastructure deployment,” Liccardo complained. “Another working group had an industry representative dramatically re-write its draft municipal code in the 11th hour, pushing aside the product of months of the working group’s deliberations. The result, in each case, were provisions that plainly prioritized industry interests.”

Also dovetailing with Pai’s narrative, many telecom companies griped about the cost of complying with local rules and regulations. In April, Larry Thompson, CEO of the National Exchange Carrier Association, with 1,300+ local telephone company members, complained one member had to pay $700,000 in costs to comply with environmental laws, historical preservation rules, zoning, and construction-related paperwork.

A representative from Comcast worried that the BDAC’s work has been so polarized towards the telecom industry, excluded state and local officials will have every reason to resist the BDAC’s findings and recommendations and refuse to adopt them.

“If they don’t feel included, not only are they outside throwing [darts] at this process, but then in the end it’s those groups that we want to adopt these model codes,” said David Don, vice president of regulatory affairs at Comcast.

But Liccardo warns Pai and his Republican allies are laying the foundation to “steamroll” over local officials by bulldozing local control of zoning and code rulemaking. For that reason, he quit the committee.

“The apparent goal is to create a set of rules that will provide industry with easy access to publicly funded infrastructure at taxpayer subsidized rates, without any obligation to provide broadband access to underserved residents.”

If Pai does manage to enact new federal rules that are as industry-friendly as Liccardo and other city officials fear, the FCC could overrule local zoning and permitting rules on a scale never seen before.

“It’s obvious that this body is going to deliver to the industry what the industry wants,” Liccardo said.

That appears to be Mr. Pai’s agenda as well.

AT&T Scam of the Week: Advocating for Fake Net Neutrality

After spending millions to kill net neutrality, AT&T today called on Congress to pass a new national law protecting AT&T’s idea of a free and open internet by regulating internet websites like Facebook, Google, and Amazon.

Full page newspaper ads taken out in several nationally known newspapers proclaimed AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson’s support for the first “Internet Bill of Rights,” conceived by some of the same lawyers and lobbyists AT&T paid to destroy the FCC’s net neutrality rules put into effect during the Obama Administration.

“Congressional action is needed to establish an ‘Internet Bill of Rights’ that applies to all internet companies and guarantees neutrality, transparency, openness, non-discrimination and privacy protection for all internet users,” Stephenson wrote in the ad.

AT&T’s proposal would attempt to include content regulation of websites under the guise of fairness, claiming that while internet service providers are expected to treat all content fairly, large websites like Google and Facebook currently do not. Critics of AT&T’s proposal call that a distraction that has nothing to do with ISPs seeking the right to establish paid internet fast lanes and favoring partnered websites with exemptions from data caps or speed throttles.

AT&T doesn’t inform readers of its own complicity in the “confusion” over net neutrality policies that have faced constant legal and political challenges from AT&T and other telecom companies. The telecom industry has furiously lobbied Congress and regulators to keep net neutrality from taking effect. Once it did, AT&T took the FCC to court to overturn the rules.

AT&T wants their own law for their own version of net neutrality.

AT&T’s campaign comes with some urgency as the company works to block states from enacting their own net neutrality laws to replace the rules abandoned by the Republican majority controlling the FCC. Despite assurances from FCC chairman Ajit Pai that the Commission would sue to pre-empt any state law that would re-establish net neutrality, AT&T and other large cable and phone companies prefer the regulatory certainty available from the quick passage of a federal law that would establish AT&T’s definition of net neutrality indefinitely. AT&T is also trying to rush passage with support from Republican congressional majorities and President Trump before the midterm elections threaten a Democratic takeover of the House, Senate, or both.

AT&T attempted to assuage customers of its good intentions by claiming it doesn’t block websites.

“We don’t censor online content. And we don’t throttle, discriminate, or degrade network performance based on content, period,” AT&T wrote (emphasis ours). But that claim opens the door to important loopholes:

  1. Speed throttles, data caps, and zero rating do not impact network performance. They impact your ability to equally access internet content, something AT&T does not promise here.
  2. AT&T only claims it won’t interfere with websites based on their content, but that was never the premise ISPs have used to demand additional payments from content creators. It isn’t the content ISPs are concerned with — it is the traffic those websites generate and, in the eyes of many net neutrality supporters, whether those websites compete with an ISPs own offerings. AT&T could have said it doesn’t throttle, discriminate, or degrade websites, period. But it didn’t.

AT&T alarmingly suggests that without predictable rules, next generation applications like virtual reality, telemedicine, and the Internet of Things will be threatened. Except that is not the message AT&T gives shareholders, arguing AT&T has robust capacity both now and into the future for next generation applications. AT&T has long promoted how lucrative it expects the Internet of Things marketplace will be.

Allowing the telecom industry to write its own “Internet Bill of Rights” met with harsh criticism from the consumer groups AT&T claims it wants to enlist in its efforts.

“Zero real net neutrality supporters are fooled by this,” wrote Fight for the Future executive director Evan Greer. “We had an Internet Bill of Rights. It was called Title II and AT&T’s army of lobbyists did everything in their power to burn it down.”

“AT&T’s hypocrisy knows no bounds,” said Free Press policy director Matt Wood. “Its phony bill of rights argument makes no sense based on the law, the policies, or the politics in play. AT&T’s head fake towards one-size-fits-all rules for all websites and content providers should fool no one. As soon as AT&T wants to stop lobbying against net neutrality, broadband privacy, and the other rights it has worked to kill at the Trump FCC and in this Congress, maybe people will stop laughing at desperate tactics like this. For now, all we can do is point out the company’s audacity in pretending that this hyper-partisan Congress can step in to fill the void of the net neutrality repeal by writing a new law tailor-made for AT&T.”

Wall Street Uneasy About Future 5G Broadband Competition; Ponders Idea of 5G Monopolies

Super monopoly?

Some Wall Street analysts are pondering ideas on how to limit forthcoming 5G wireless home broadband, suggesting providers might want to set up local monopolies, keeping competition to a minimum and profits to a maximum.

Verizon’s presentation at its annual Analyst Day meeting drew little praise from analysts and investors in attendance, “landing like a thud” to quote one person at the event.

The issue concerning Wall Street is what impact 5G wireless broadband will have on the internet access marketplace, which is currently a comfortable monopoly or duopoly in most American cities. That may radically change if the country’s four wireless companies each launch their own 5G services, designed to replace wired home broadband services from the cable and phone companies.

This week Verizon formally announced Sacramento would be the first city in the country to get its forthcoming 5G service, with an additional four of five unnamed cities to follow sometime next year.

Verizon will advertise 1,000Mbps service that will be “priced competitively” with current internet providers in the market. But Verizon intends to market itself as “a premium provider,” which means pricing is likely to be higher than one might expect. Verizon claims they intend to roll out 5G service to 30 million households — 25-30% of the country, making Verizon a prominent provider of fixed wireless home broadband service.

But analysts panned Verizon’s presentation for raising more questions than the company was prepared to answer. Barron’s shared the views of several analysts who were underwhelmed.

Notably, Craig Moffett from Moffett-Nathanson was particularly concerned about how to rate 5G service for his investor clients, and more importantly to them, how to forecast revenue and profit.

Moffett

The biggest problem for Moffett is the prospect of additional competition, and what that will do to each current (and future) provider’s share of customers and its revenue. If every major wireless carrier enters the 5G home broadband business, that will raise the prospective number of ISPs available to consumers to six or more — four wireless carriers competing with the phone and cable company. That is potentially very dangerous to big profits, especially if a competitive price war emerges.

“Let’s assume that AT&T is just as aggressive about this opportunity as Verizon,” Moffett told his investor clients. “Will they enter the same markets as Verizon, or different ones? […] If multiple players enter each market, all targeting the same 25-30% [where 5G service will be sold]. Well, what then? Let’s suppose the 30% market share estimate is right. Wouldn’t it be now shared among two, three, or even four [5G fixed wireless broadband] providers?”

Moffett gently proposes a concept where this profit-bruising competition can be abated by following the cable television model — companies agree to stay out of each others’ markets, giving consumers a choice of just one 5G provider in each city instead of four.

“There’s a completely different future where each operator targets different markets […] Let’s say that AT&T decides to skip Sacramento. After all, Verizon will have gotten there first,” Moffett suggests. “If the required share of the [fixed wireless] market is close to Verizon’s estimated 30%, then there is only room for one provider. So AT&T decides to do Stockton, about 40 miles to the south. Verizon would then skip Stockton, but might do Modesto, twenty miles further south… and then AT&T would then skip Modesto and instead target Fresno… unless Sprint or T-Mobile got there first.”

But Moffett is thinking even further ahead, by suggesting wireless carriers might be able to stop spending billions on building and expanding their competing 4G LTE networks when they could all share a single provider’s network in each city. That idea could work if providers agreed to creating local monopolies.

“That would create a truly bizarre market dynamic that is almost unimaginable today, where each operator ‘owned’ different cities, not just for [5G] but also for 4G LTE. If this kind of patchwork were to come to pass, the only viable solution might then be for companies to reciprocally wholesale their networks. You can use mine in Modesto if I can use yours in Fresno. To state the obvious, there is almost no imaginable path to that kind of an outcome today.”

The reason providers have not attempted this kind of “one provider” model in the past is because former FCC commissioners would have never supported the idea of retiring wireless competition and creating a cable monopoly-like model for wireless service. But things have changed dramatically with the advent of Chairman Ajit Pai, who potentially could be sold on the idea of granting local monopolies on the theory it will “speed 5G deployment” to a large number of different cities. Just as independent wireless providers lease access on the four largest carriers today (MVNO agreements), AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint could sell wholesale access to their networks to each other, allowing massive cost savings, which may or may not be passed on to customers.

But it would also bring an end to network redundancy, create capacity problems, and require every carrier to be certain their networks were interoperable with other wireless companies. The federal government’s emergency first responder program also increasingly depends on a wireless network AT&T is building that would give them first priority access to wireless services. How that would work in a city “designated” to get service from Verizon is unclear.

Restricting competition would protect profits and sharing networks would slash expenses. But such prospects were not enough to assuage Wall Street’s insatiable hunger for maximum profits. That is why analysts were unimpressed with Verizon’s presentation, which “lacked the financials” — precise numbers that explain how much the network will cost, how quickly it will be paid off, and how much revenue it can earn for investors.

A small cell attached to a light pole.

Verizon did sell investors on the idea 5G will put an end to having to wire fiber optics to every home. The service will also keep costs to a minimum by selling retail activation kits customers will install themselves — avoiding expensive truck rolls. Billing and account activation will also be self-service.

Verizon also announced a new compact 4G/5G combined antenna, which means 5G service can be supplied through existing macro/small cell 4G equipment. Verizon will be able to supplement that network by adding new 5G nodes where it becomes necessary.

Investor expectations are that 5G will cost substantially less than fiber to the home service, will not cost massive amounts of new investment dollars to deploy in addition to maintaining existing 4G services, will not substantially undercut existing providers, and will allow Verizon to market 21st century broadband speeds to its customers bypassed for FiOS fiber service. It will also threaten rural phone companies, where customers could easily replace slow speed DSL in favor of what Verizon claims will be “gigabit wireless.”

Despite that, Instinet’s Jeffrey Kvaal was not wowed by Verizon’s look to the future.

“Verizon’s initial fixed wireless implementation seems clunky and it withheld its pricing strategy,” Kvaal told his clients. He believes fixed wireless broadband will cost Verizon an enormous amount of money he feels would be better spent on Verizon’s mobile network. “Verizon glossed over 5-10x LTE upgrades that are already offering ~100Mbps of fully mobile service at current prices to current phones without line of sight. A better 5G story might be to free up sufficient LTE capacity to boost the unlimited cap from 25GB to 100GB for, say, a $25 premium. The ‘cut the cord’ concept was successful in voice, in video, and should be in broadband.”

Defenders of FCC’s Ajit Pai Miss the Point on Cutting Broadband Speed Standards

Defenders of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai are rushing to defend the Republican majority’s likely support for an initiative to roll back the FCC’s 25/3Mbps speed standard embraced by his predecessor, Thomas Wheeler.

Johnny Kampis, writing for Watchdog.org, claims that broadband speed standard has had an adverse affect on solving America’s rural broadband gap.

After raising that standard, suddenly those areas with speeds below 10 mbps were lumped into the same group with those who could access speeds of 10-25 mbps, resulting in diminished focus on those areas where the broadband gap cut the deepest.

Raising the standard meant, too, that fans of big government could point to the suddenly higher percentage of the population that was “underserved” on internet speeds and call for more taxpayer money to solve that “problem.”

Kampis is relying on the talking points from the broadband industry, which also happens to support the same ideological interests of Watchdog.org’s benefactor, the corporate/foundation-funded Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. The argument suggests that if you raise broadband standards, that opens the door to more communities to claim they too are presently underserved, which then would qualify them for government-funded broadband improvements.

Kampis’ piece, like many of those published on Watchdog.org, distorts reality with suggestions that communities with 50Mbps broadband service will now be ripe for government handouts. He depends on an unnamed source from an article written on Townhall.com and also quotes the CEO of Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, which is closely associated with the same Franklin Center that hosts Watchdog.org. Kampis’ piece relies on sourcing that is directly tied to the organization hosting his article.

In reality, rural broadband funding has several mechanisms in place which heavily favor unserved, rural areas, not communities that already have 50Mbps internet access. ISPs also routinely object to projects proposed within their existing service areas, declaring them already served, and much of the funding doled out by the Connect America Fund (CAF) Kampis suggests is a government handout are being given to telephone companies, not municipalities.

Kampis

Kampis is satisfied free market capitalism will eventually solve the rural broadband problem, despite two decades of lackluster or non-existent service in areas deemed unprofitable to serve.

“So while Pai’s critics denigrate him because his FCC is considering lowering that broadband standard, he’s just correcting an earlier mistake, with the realization that the free market, not big government, will solve the rural broadband gap if given enough time,” Kampis writes. “And returning to the old standards will help ensure that the focus will be placed squarely on the areas that need the most help.”

Kampis suggests that free market solution might be 5G wireless broadband, which can potentially serve rural populations less expensively than traditional wired broadband service. Communities only need wait another 5-10 years for that to materialize, if it does at all.

Kampis claims to be an investigative reporter, but he didn’t venture too far beyond regurgitating press releases and talking points from big phone companies and opponents of municipal broadband. If he had spent time reviewing correspondence sent to the FCC in response to the question of easing broadband speed standards, he would have discovered the biggest advocates for that are large phone companies and wireless carriers that stand to benefit the most from the change.

Following the money usually delivers a clearer, more fact-based explanation for what motivates players in the broadband industry. In this case, the 25Mbps speed standard has regularly been attacked by phone and wireless companies hoping to tap into government funds to build out their networks. Traditional phone companies are upset that the 25Mbps requirement means their typical rural broadband solution – DSL, usually won’t cut it. Wireless companies have also had a hard time assuring the FCC of consistent 25Mbps speeds, making it difficult for them to qualify for grants. AT&T wasn’t happy with a 10Mbps standard for wireless service either.

Incidentally, these are the same companies that have failed to solve the rural broadband gap all along. Most will continue not serving rural areas unless the government covers part of their costs. AT&T illustrates that with its own fixed wireless rural broadband solution, which came about grudgingly with the availability of CAF funding.

The dark money ATM network hides corporate contributions funneled into advocacy groups.

The free market broadband solution is rooted in meeting Return On Investment metrics. In short, if a home costs more to serve that a company can recoup in a short amount of time, that home will not be served unless either the homeowner or someone else covers the costs of providing the service. By wiping out the Obama Administration’s FCC speed standard, more ratepayer dollars will be directed to phone and wireless companies that will build less expensive and less-capable DSL and wireless networks instead of investing in more modern technology like fiber optics.

Mr. Kampis, and others, through their advocacy, claim their motive is a reduction in government waste. But in reality, and not by coincidence, their brand of journalism hoodwinks readers into advocating against their best interests of getting fast, future-proofed broadband, and instead hand more money to companies like AT&T. The Franklin Center refuses to reveal its donor list, of course, but SourceWatch reported the Center is heavily dependent on funding from DonorsTrust, which cloaks the identity of its corporate donors. Mother Jones went further and called it “a dark money ATM.”

Companies like AT&T didn’t end up this lucky by accident. It donates to dark money groups that fund various sock puppet and astroturf operations that avoid revealing where the money comes from, while the groups get to claim they are advocating for taxpayers. By no coincidence, these groups frequently don’t attack corporate welfare, especially if the recipient is also a donor.

New York’s rural broadband initiative is on track to deliver near 100% broadband coverage to all New York homes and has speed requirements and a ban on hard data caps.

Raising speed standards does not harm rural broadband expansion. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s broadband expansion campaign is on track to reach the remaining 150,000 homes still without broadband access by sometime next year. His program relies on broadband expansion funding that comes with requirements that insist providers offer internet access capable of at least 25Mbps (with a preference for 100Mbps) for $60 or less and a ban on hard usage caps. Kampis claims the 25Mbps speed standard hampers progress, yet New York is the first state in the nation moving towards 100% broadband availability for its residents at that speed or better.

Chairman Pai’s solution is little more than a gift to the country’s largest phone and wireless companies that would like to capture more CAF money for themselves while delivering the least amount of service possible (and keep money out of the hands of municipalities that want to build their own more capable networks). The evidence is quite clear — relying on the same companies that have allowed the rural broadband crisis to continue for more than 20 years is a stupendously bad idea that only sounds brilliant after some corporation writes a large check.

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

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.”

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