Mobile Citizen Brings Affordable Mobile Broadband to Minnesota Nonprofits and Educators

by Peter Elwell

Mobile CitizenOn your phone, your laptop, or your tablet — Internet access on the go is quickly moving from luxury to necessity.  Fortunately, Denver-based nonprofit Mobile Citizen exists to deliver service exclusively to the most under-served areas of our society that often have limited access (at best) to the mobile web: schools and nonprofits.

After years of preparation and planning, the initiative has landed in our own backyard, actively searching for partnerships.

Founded in the mid-1980’s by five nonprofit foundations to transmit educational videos in schools across the country, these organizations collectively provide services via  Educational Broadband Spectrum (EBS) under the Mobile Citizen brand. In 2006, Mobile Citizen entered into an unique excess capacity agreement with Clearwire Corporation (known as CLEAR locally) which allows for expanded offerings — specifically affordable access to CLEAR’s 4G WiMAX network for local groups in the nonprofit and educational space.

Under the arrangement, Mobile Citizen provides unlimited 4G mobile broadband to customers at rates 50-75% less than retail.  Current pricing is established at $10/month for 12 months of service with an $89 USB modem,  a $99 traditional modem, or $129 “CLEAR Spot” which can connect up to eight WiFi devices.

Mobile Citizen’s reach includes Chicago, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Portland, Salt Lake City, and now,  Minneapolis/St.Paul.   Many social service organizations are turning to portable devices and mobile Internet for convenience to participants and connect those they serve to community resources.   “Having access to community resource information and the vast number of on-line tools only in an office space severely limits our ability to assist those we work with,” says Jen Chamberlain, a social services coordinator in North Minneapolis.

By dramatically reducing the recurring cost of mobile Internet, Mobile Citizen provides a valuable resource for organizations doing good work in our communities.

The need for low cost mobile Internet is also urgent for many schools.  “I need the Internet to get my homework done at least twice a week.  Often I go to the library, but that makes it harder to get my projects done,” says Chris, a student at Central High School in St. Paul.  According to a recent a report done by the Center for Rural Policy and Development the broadband adoption rate for families that make under $25,000 annually is only about 30%.  In contrast, there is nearly a 80% broadband adoption rate for of families making $50,000.

Many Minnesota schools are finding that for students, reliable access to computers and the Internet is one of the largest limiting factors to their ability to utilize technology and prepare them with the digital literacy skills for future jobs.

Ms. Hutchinson, an English teacher at Central High School says, “In the last five years many more school documents and resources are posted on-line.  I often have students staying after school simply to use my computer.  But, even that is not an option for many of my students.  Limited Internet access is yet another obstacle to climb between the haves and have nots.”

Michelle Warner Director, Mobile WiMAX Services at Mobile Citizen also stresses the growing necessity for equal access to the Internet.  She says, “Access to the Internet continues to become a basic need and right, similar to electricity, and it’s critical that everyone has a way to connect. We are proud to offer the fastest mobile Internet service at very affordable rates to work towards closing this digital divide.”

Throughout the year, Mobile Citizen will be  rolling-out the service with select Minnesota partners who fit the qualifying criteria and show interest in promising scalable strategies for fostering nationwide digital inclusion. More information can be obtained by contacting the organization directly.