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Killing Off Affordable Rural Internet: BMI Loses $99 Sprint Unlimited, Gains 10GB Verizon Plan for $100

John Hattersheid November 3, 2014 Competition, Consumer News, Internet Overcharging, Millenicom, Sprint, Verizon, Wireless Broadband Comments Off on Killing Off Affordable Rural Internet: BMI Loses $99 Sprint Unlimited, Gains 10GB Verizon Plan for $100

bmi.net-logoRural Americans who cannot get cable broadband or DSL will now pay more money for less service as wireless carriers continue to cancel affordable mobile broadband plans with a generous usage allowance in favor of premium-priced, stingy usage-capped wireless Internet.

Two weeks after Millenicom was forced to drop affordable Verizon wireless broadband service, Blue Mountain Internet received word its unlimited Sprint broadband reseller agreement was being terminated the following day, forcing the company to hurry out cancellation notices to affected customers.

“We received notification yesterday from our upline provider that our mobile broadband accounts utilizing the Sprint network (Net2) will all be cancelled on Friday, Oct. 31st, 2014,” the company wrote in an email to customers. “We apologize for the short notice but we just received notice yesterday.”

BMI had offered customers an unlimited use mobile broadband plan from Sprint for $99 a month. It has been replaced with a Verizon plan that costs a dollar more and comes with a 10GB monthly data allowance with a steep $20/GB overlimit fee. “Heavy users” can pay $120 a month for a monthly allowance of 20GB. Affected customers intending to switch to Verizon get a discount off the monthly plan price if they pay quarterly: $85 (10GB) or $100 (20GB).

Blue Mountain Internet Mobile Broadband Rental Prices & Plans

Package Network Traffic Traffic Email AV Optimizer Best Price Monthly Quarterly
      Optimized Accts Licenses Software paying quarterly 3 months
VMBB-HalfGig 1 1/2Gb 1.5Gb 1 1 Yes $19.99/Mo $24.95 $59.97
VMBB-1GB 1 1Gb 3Gb 1 2 Yes $34.95/Mo $39.99 $104.85
VMBB-3GB 1 3Gb 9Gb 1 2 Yes $52.95/Mo $59.99 $158.85
VMBB-5GB 1 5Gb 15Gb 1 2 Yes $69.99/Mo $79.99 $209.97
VMBB-10GB 1 10Gb 30Gb 1 2 Yes $84.95/Mo $99.99 $254.85
VMBB-20GB 1 20Gb 60Gb 1 2 Yes $99.99/Mo $119.99 $299.97
Plan Details: Network 1 Overages are charged at a rate of $20/Gigabyte – regardless of plan. Hardware options available or you can bring your own device (BYOD). Traffic optimizer software is free for Windows & Macintosh. Optimizer does not compress video or already compressed files.

EVDOinfo notes that with Millenicom and BMI losing their relationships with Verizon and Sprint respectively over the course of just one month, “it seems unlikely that we’ll see another [reseller] emerge with a no-contract, high-data plan using one of the major carriers’ networks.”

Millenicom customers were being offered a slightly different plan if they agreed to switch to a Verizon Wireless account: 20GB a month for $99 with a $15/GB overlimit fee. Customers signing up for a “More Everything” plan will pay considerably more. A 30GB plan with a mobile hotspot device costs $150 a month, not including fees and taxes. A one-year contract commitment usually applies.

Rural America: Welcome to Verizon LTE Broadband – $120/Mo for 5-12Mbps With 30GB Cap

They are coming.

With both AT&T and Verizon petitioning various state regulators for permission to switch off rural landline phone and broadband customers and force customers to use wireless alternatives, getting affordable broadband in the countryside is becoming increasingly difficult.

Last week, Millenicom — a reseller of wireless broadband service specializing in serving rural, long-haul truckers, and recreational vehicle users notified customers it was transferring their accounts directly to Verizon Wireless and will no longer have any role selling discounted Verizon Wireless broadband service.

Reports indicate that Millenicom’s contract renewal negotiations with Verizon did not go as expected and as a result customers are facing potential price increases and long-term contracts to continue their wireless broadband service.

Both AT&T and Verizon have told regulators they can satisfactorily serve rural customers with wireless LTE broadband service as an alternative to maintaining rural landline infrastructure. Neither company likes to talk about the price rural customers will pay if they want to keep broadband in their homes or businesses.

Some Millenicom customers have been invited to preview Verizon Wireless’ Home LTE Installed Internet plans (formerly known as HomeFusion) and many are not too pleased with their options:

lte1

lte2

Verizon’s overlimit fee is $10/GB for those that exceed their plan limit. According to several Amazon.com reviews of the service (it received 1.5 stars), customers are quickly introduced to “Verizon’s shady usage meter” that consistently measures phantom usage. Bills of $400-500 a month are not uncommon. One customer was billed for 18GB ($180) in extra usage despite following Verizon’s suggestion to stop using the service when it reported he reached 29GB of usage.

verizon bill

This bill includes more than $3,000 in data overlimit fees.

“The bill came with the bogus data charges, and it was twice as much as the meter detected,” the customer reported.

In fact, the phantom usage has become so pervasive, Verizon customers have dubbed the phenomenon “ghost data,” but the overlimit fees Verizon expects customers to pay are very real.

“[It] went out more than my DSL and my first bill from Verizon was $1300+,” reported Jill Kloberdanz. “I want this demon out of my house.”

“According to [Verizon], I used over 65GB in just one week,” reported Aron Fox. “And they want almost $800 for it. My wife and I are two 60-somethings that never game and rarely stream.”

“Definitely stay away […] unless you like to see your data charges skyrocket (in my case more than doubling) when your use doesn’t,” reported Richard Thompson. “I’ve pulled the plug on it — literally.”

“We have the same problem – huge data overages, meter does not match our usage,” writes Heather Comer. “We turn the router off at night and when we check the next morning, it is still accumulating data.”

There are close to a dozen more complaints about Verizon’s usage meter, all stating they were charged for usage even when the equipment was switched off.

While both Verizon and AT&T stand to save millions disconnecting rural landline customers, they stand to earn even more switching rural customers to their more costly (and profitable) wireless alternatives.

Millenicom Customers Lose Unlimited Wireless Data (Again); Sprint Re-Terminates Agreement

muymMillenicom customers have had their ups and downs over the last two weeks coping with e-mail notifications they would lose, keep, and once again lose their unlimited wireless data plan.

Just a day after Millenicom heard that Sprint would allow them to continue selling Unlimited and Bring Your Own Device plans, the wireless carrier best known for its “unlimited for life” offer changed its mind:

We are very sorry to report that Sprint has reversed their decision from yesterday and terminated their agreement with the gateway for our Unlimited and BYOD accounts.

We are not certain how long until the accounts will be closed.

sprintnextelWe will be shipping out Hotspot devices to those clients who had opted for that solution and BMI.net is ready to fulfill orders for those choosing to go with them.

We have attempted to keep you informed every step of the way and avoid any abrupt transition. We apologize that we weren’t able to come through.

Thank you for allowing us to be of service and please accept our sincere wish for your future success.

Dennis Castle
Owner

millenicomIt is not the first time Millenicom has had problems with Sprint, which has proved to be a difficult carrier to deal with with respect to unlimited use plans.

Sprint’s decision is a major blow to rural Americans who lack access to cable or DSL broadband and are forced to consider satellite-delivered Internet access or pay even more for wireless data plans that come with puny usage caps, overlimit fees or speed throttles.

There are a few alternatives, but since these providers resell access to Sprint-owned networks, all are potentially vulnerable to Sprint’s evolving views on resellers:

bmi-logoBlue Mountain Internet (BMI) offers an “unlimited plan” that isn’t along with several usage allowance plans. BMI strongly recommends the use of their Mobile Broadband Optimizer software that compresses web traffic, dramatically improving speeds and reducing consumption:

Monthly Plans

  • $39.99/Month – 1 Gig Data (** up to 3GB compressed) ($25/GB Overlimit Fee)
  • $59.99/Month – 3 Gig Data (** up to 9GB compressed) ($20/GB Overlimit Fee)
  • $79.99/Month – 5 Gig Data (** up to 15GB compressed) ($20/GB Overlimit Fee)
  • $99.99/Month – 10 Gig Data (** Up to 45GB compressed) ($15/GB Overlimit Fee)
  • $79.99/Month – Unlimited (Bring Your Own Device) – BYOD
  • $99.99/Month – Unlimited Data (S Network) ***

evdousaThere is a $100 maximum on overlimit fees, but BMI reserves the right to suspend accounts after running 3-5GB over a plan’s allowance to limit exposure to the penalty rate. The compression software is for Windows only and does not work with MIFI devices or with video/audio streaming. BMI warns its wireless service is not intended for video streaming. Customers are not allowed to host computer applications including continuous streaming video and webcam posts that broadcast more than 24 hours; automatic data feeds; automated continuous streaming machine-to-machine connections; or peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing.

EVDODepotUSA offers two truly unlimited use plans starting at $119 a month. The company is only contracted to offer access to Sprint’s woefully congested 3G network and the Clear 4G WiMAX network that typically does not offer much coverage in rural areas. LTE access is not currently available. There is a six month contract obligation, but the company also offers a 10-day free trial.

Their current plans:

evdo

wireless n wifiWireless ‘n Wifi offers two partly unlimited plans with no contract commitment. The company charges a refundable deposit on devices, but they become yours to keep after two years:

  • Unlimited 4G Sprint/Clear WiMAX with 3G Fallback ($58.99) offers unlimited WiMAX service but has a 5GB cap on Sprint’s 3G network, the network rural customers will encounter the most. Total start-up fee is $194.93 which includes an activation fee, modem deposit (refunded upon modem return or after 24 months of service), the first month of service, and shipping for the wireless device.
  • Unlimited 4G LTE with WiMAX and 3G Fallback ($79.99) offers unlimited Sprint 4G LTE and Sprint/Clear WiMAX service with a 35GB cap on Sprint’s 3G network. Customers can select a dual-band device that supports LTE and 3G service for $246.93 (includes activation fee, modem upcharge fee, first month of service, shipping, and refundable $100 modem deposit). Customers looking for access to LTE, 3G, and WiMAX can choose a tri-band device for $315.93 (includes activation fee, modem upcharge, first month of service, shipping and refundable deposit.) Keep in mind Sprint’s 4G LTE network is still very spotty.

Millenicom Kills, Then Revives Unlimited Wireless Plan Rural America Loves

millenicomAn unlimited wireless broadband plan popular with rural Americans and traveling RV owners has been revived after customers were informed unlimited access was going to be unavailable after Oct. 31.

Millenicom resells wireless broadband service on the Sprint and Verizon wireless networks. Millenicom’s $79.99 Unlimited Plan had no contract requirement and customers were allowed to bring their own wireless device.

Millenicom bucked the trend by continuing to find ways to offer unlimited access plans even as wireless companies began imposing usage caps. Sprint’s decision to cut service to a third-party reseller forced Millenicom to send an e-mail notice on Oct. 18 to unlimited use customers:

Sprint has discontinued service to our gateway provider, unfortunately that means we can no longer provide the Unlimited or BYOD Plan to you.

We anticipate your plan to be discontinued by Sprint by the end of this month. We can offer a couple of options for you available through October 31, 2013.

  1. Continue your service through the BMI.net Unlimited/BYOD Plan. They have agreed to honor your service through the end of this month at no charge with an ongoing monthly service fee of $79.99;
  2. Switch your service to the Millenicom 20GB Hotspot Plan. We will provide a Novatel MiFi 4620LE with activation and shipping free of charge.

Given this is out of our control, we recommend that you act on this at your earliest convenience.

We deeply regret this circumstance.

Millenicom

The decision would have had an immediate impact on rural customers who cannot get cable broadband or DSL. Many Millenicom customers receive wireless broadband over 3G, 4G, and/or LTE networks, depending on reception quality, the carrier, and what services are available on the nearest cell tower.

Just a few days later, the company reversed course, at least for current customers:

The upstream carrier is reconsidering their decision with our gateway. At this time it appears the accounts will be allowed to continue.

We apologize for any confusion or frustration and thank you for your patience; we will immediately provide updates as information is provided.

At the moment, Millenicom’s website still advertises three plans, although the Unlimited Plan details are now missing and might no longer be an option for new customers:

plans

(Verizon Wireless Network) Hotspot Plan – No contract – Nationwide coverage (Check coverage)

  • 3G/4G Novatel MiFi Hotspot
  • 20 gigabytes of data
  • Connect up to 10 WiFi-enabled devices

The 3G/4G Hotspot Plan is a no-contract service that allows for 20 gigabytes of data transfer for $69.99/month. The service automatically allows for up to 10 wireless devices to connect simultaneously and is backwards compatible to 3G in the event the device is outside the coverage area.  The service supports 802.11 b, g and n and is also VPN compatible. Initial charges require $99.99 device purchase fee, $49.99 activation fee and $15.00 shipping fee as well as the prorated balance of the first month service fee.

(Sprint Network) Unlimited Plan – No contract – Nationwide Coverage – Plan Details Missing – May only be available for current customers ($79.99)

  • Netgear 341U USB Device
  • Unlimited data
  • 3G/4G/LTE

Bring Your Own Device Plan – No contract – Nationwide Coverage

  • Bring Your Own Device
  • Soft capped unlimited data*
  • 3G, 4G, LTE

The Millenicom BYOD mobile broadband account is a no contract service that allows for nationwide coverage using the clients own mobile broadband device. There is a one-time set up fee of $49.99 to activate the account. The BYOD service is for personal and family use and is not to be used for commercial purposes or as a public WiFi or broadcast to multi-dwelling units or any other extraordinary circumstance. Usage over 50 gigabytes in one month will alert our investigative team. Devices usable with this plan: Customer must own a non-active mobile broadband device of the appropriate upstream carrier (email [email protected] for clarification). We highly recommend you contact us before signing up for this type of account to ensure your device is compatible. (*-Soft cap of 50GB)

Customers report Millenicom has been a reliable reseller for years and is tech-savvy about finding ways to deliver rural wireless broadband to customers without onerous usage caps. However, their services are only as good as your cell reception. Sprint’s 3G network is notoriously oversold and slow in urban areas but might still be useful in rural communities. Sprint’s older Clear WiMAX 4G network rarely offers coverage in rural areas. But rural residents are in luck: Sprint’s rollout of 4G LTE service seems to run against the grain of most wireless providers. Sprint is upgrading rural and small city towers for LTE service before many larger urban areas get the next generation 4G service.

“Anything is better than satellite,” writes Stop the Cap! reader Dan Gallo. He has been a loyal Millenicom customer in rural Virginia for several years, where Verizon DSL is still not available and cable companies are nowhere to be found. “That Sprint tower next to the highway three minutes from my house delivers a solid signal, so there is civilization here.”

Thanks also to Stop the Cap! reader Daniel alerted us to the story.

Jeff Schefke shows off his involved Millenicom setup and illustrates the complexities of getting rural wireless broadband from Sprint or Verizon Wireless through Millenicom. Schefke reports normal speeds are up to 2.5/1Mbps, which is far better than the 120kbps he used to get on his phone. (4 minutes)

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