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Judge Stops Sprint From Shutting Down Parts of Its WiMax Network, at Least for Now

The move prevents the Friday shutdown for 90 days, at least in some areas, according to a group that was seeking to require that Sprint keep the network running.

Susan Law Cain / Shutterstock

A group of schools and community groups has won an 11th-hour order preventing Sprint from shutting down its older WiMax network as it had planned to do on Friday.

Massachusetts superior court judge Janet Sanders granted a temporary halt Thursday, saying that the groups had demonstrated a likelihood of success in proving their case that Sprint and its Clearwire unit were violating their contracts with the shutdown.

Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen, which provide Internet service to nonprofits and schools using the WiMax network, praised the ruling.

“The injunction compels Sprint to honor its professed commitment to closing the digital divide,” Mobile Citizen founder John Schwartz said in a statement. “It’s unfortunate it took a court order to stop Sprint from shutting off 300,000 children, families, teachers and community members from access to the American dream. But we look forward to moving ahead positively with Sprint and ensuring that everyone in our community can keep the service they rely on to connect to the larger world around them.”

Mobile Citizen said the emergency order requires Sprint to maintain its WiMax network in certain areas for 90 days to allow the organizations more time to move users to Sprint’s LTE network. Sprint was the first to have a true 4G network thanks to its adoption of WiMax, which was ready ahead of LTE. However, LTE networks proved faster and more popular, prompting Sprint to switch gears and go for an LTE network.

The company has said for some time that it planned to shutter the WiMax network. Deactivating the network would mean that consumers that have phones or hotspots that work on WiMax and 3G will only be able to get slower 3G service, while those with WiMax-only devices won’t get service at all.

In addition to retail customers, some others resold service on Sprint’s WiMax network, including groups like Mobile Citizen who focused on offering Internet access to schools and nonprofits. Sprint has about 1,000 Internet service providers that are part of its school broadband program, though the company says 85 percent of those have moved to the LTE network.

Sprint isn’t saying how many people are still using the WiMax network, but it has said that educational customers account for about 5 percent of those that remain.

Update, 12:45 p.m. PT: Sprint says it disagrees with the ruling and declined to say whether it would go ahead with shutting down some parts of the network while keeping it open in areas served by the groups who filed suit.

“We plan to continue to protect our rights in this contract dispute and expect to prevail on the merits,” Sprint said in a statement to Re/code. “We are reviewing the decision and evaluating our options.”

The company said it hoped that Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen “will take this time to work cooperatively with Sprint to resolve the contract dispute.”

Sprint also touted its track record as a provider of Internet to schools, non-profits and the disadvantaged. “At Sprint we believe in the power of the internet to change people’s lives for the better,” it said. “Sprint’s record of programs to bridge the digital divide proves it cares about ensuring as many customers as possible are connected at all times.”

Here’s a copy of the order that Mobile Citizen posted to the Web.

Sprint WiMax Injunction Granted

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