The quest for reliable high-speed internet is a never-ending battle when you live in the backwoods of Wisconsin. The available options did not send their best. Normal wired internet isn’t even an option. Satellite and wireless choices helped me reach a stage of complete baldness early.

In desperate need of quality internet service I turned into a resilient cuss since I had plenty of time on my hands without the internet to distract me. Local wireless internet providers were expensive and spotty. Without other choices the local guys could thumb their nose at me. Bad idea, guys.

Time kept counting until more options materialized. The local library loaned out a wireless internet service that worked pretty good. Unfortunately, a lot of people—even in town—needed fast, reliable internet service that didn’t require a second mortgage. The library solution needed to be returned after a short week. The waiting list to re-loan the device grew long.

Research led me to a non-profit company called Calyx. Boing Boing and a few other sites had articles on Calyx, saying they offered internet service a lot like what was available at the library. They even alluded to the idea that Calyx’s fee could be deductible as a charitable contribution, a half truth (as in partially deductible).

Excited over my discovery, I published my findings. Readers started to comment that Calyx is expensive (they are) and the same exact product was available by other non-profit organizations at a fraction of the cost.

I switched gears and went with 4GCommunity instead of Calyx, saving several hundred dollars. Less than a year later 4G was out of business. Calyx had me right where they wanted: defenseless with nowhere to go. If I wanted internet service I was a captive customer of Calyx.

Painful Lesson

Reluctantly I coughed up the $500 needed for a year of internet service. There were other lower cost options similar to 4GCommunity, but the risk was high they’d face a similar fate as 4G. So Calyx has been my internet provider.

My renewal date is fast approaching and the idea of paying such a large fee gnaws at me. The library never had an issue; I checked. Calyx works fine. Similar options carried risks. What is a wayward accountant to do?

Well, the pain of parting with another $500 was the cattle prod to the backside I needed. It became clear all these companies had a root source and were reselling the service using a loophole that could be closed at any time without notice.

As I kept digging I discovered Mobile Citizen was the fairy godmother providing all the toys. It seems Congress opened bandwidth for wireless internet reserved for educational institutions and nonprofit organizations. Calyx was the first to figure out there was a loophole to resell the service. A herd followed fast behind.

The wireless companies didn’t like customers switching to lower cost alternatives on their own network. Every opportunity to find a breach in the agreement was used to shut down resellers of the service. It is rumored 4GCommunity suffered such a fate.

Creative Thinking

Securing long-term reliable internet service has become a religious calling for me. (This statement makes more sense in a bit.) Risking $500 on internet service that could be cancelled without notice wasn’t working for me. The nonprofit organizations reselling the service were doing so outside the spirit of the agreement they had with the wireless providers. My library didn’t have a problem because they used the service as it was intended.

The dividing line came when I dug deeper into Mobile Citizen. They sold the wireless internet service for $10 a month, in some cases free. (You are allowed to swallow hard here.) To recap: the wireless service works almost everywhere in the U.S., can travel with you, and costs a mere $10 per month!

So what’s the catch?

Well, for one, Mobile Citizen only sells to educational entities, nonprofits and social welfare agencies. Since I’m not one of these I could be forced to lie (not a good option and liable to cost me more when caught) or pull a John Oliver (something you may actually want to consider) and start my own church (religious organizations don’t count unless they also have an educational institution attached).

But there is a better way! My oldest daughter is tutoring and teaching English as a second language to people in China. I haven’t tested this method yet, but I will.  I will contact Mobile Citizen to see if she would qualify as an educational entity (probably not, but worth asking). I’ll be honest and accept whatever the decision.

But, my daughter is moving out so she will want her own internet service, leaving dad in the dust. (Thanks, kid. After all I did for you. Remember, I never killed you in your youth.)

I needed creative ideas to get this awesome internet service for ten smackaroos per month. I could ask my library if they’ll let me piggy back their account and pay for my own service rather than loaning out their device when it was available. My suspicion in the library will not want to jeopardize their account so they’ll politely decline. It’s still worth asking.

Absent a library willing to extend the offer to you, the choice is limited to other nonprofit organizations, educational entities and social welfare agencies. The definition of these three groups is rather wide so I’m hoping the slide something through.

Most of you, kind readers, know of a nonprofit that doesn’t use the Mobile Citizen service. This is a good time to bring it to their attention for the opportunity to purchase your own service from them. If you are actively involved in the organization, you can volunteer to set up the program for the organization. The process is easy.

A Plethora of Choices

Of course, there will be readers who don’t have contact with a nonprofit or other eligible organization. In this case, or if you’re just interested, you can set up your own nonprofit organization. It can be small and still count. The nonprofit ideas are endless.

There are a few problems with starting your own nonprofit organization. First it takes time to set up and time isn’t free. Second, the IRS charges a $750 application fee to be considered for exempt status. If your organization expects less than $40,000 of annual revenue the application fee drops to $350. This is a major pain in the tail!

However, Mobile Citizen provides several options to receive service through a qualified organization. They are clear they do NOT sell to individuals. However, teachers and students can open an account for the school with the school’s permission. Then the wireless service can be provided to students and teachers. A win for everyone since the service could actually be FREE!

You can search for non-profit organizations in your community. Even the smallest of communities has nonprofit organizations. Using the link to search local nonprofits, review the list of local organizations for those that interest you most. You can approach the nonprofit with the information about low-cost internet service. If the nonprofit is really small you could end up with free service! Offering to handle the setup in return for your internet service is a good idea. The smaller the nonprofit the better, as a really small organization may qualify for free internet for members and officers.

Final Option

Since I’ve dedicated this blog towards building financial literacy and donate all the proceeds to charity, I may need to consider turning The Wealthy Accountant into a non-profit organization. If I can’t find a way to renew through normal contacts I will strip this blog from my tax practice and file for exemption with the IRS. If that happens I’ll be sure to let you in on the project, kind readers, as you may wish to be charter members with the awesome perk of low-cost internet service.

Don’t get too excited though. As I explore ideas it is nearly a certainty I’ll find a nonprofit I can help open an account with Mobile Citizen and extend the service to members, including your favorite accountant.

You should do the same. You can kill two birds with one stone. By helping a local nonprofit get internet service for the organization and its members at a very low price, you also stand to gain.  A quick glance at my local list of possibilities immediately shows several prime candidates. A nonprofit only two miles from my country estate (I sound important, don’t I?) maintains snowmobile trails in the area. Bet the group would love a low-cost internet service.

The knee jerk reaction is to open your own nonprofit so you run the whole show. That’s too much work! You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to succeed! Many, many micro-sized nonprofits are already setup to receive the Mobile Citizen internet service. You can benefit your community while doing yourself a personal finance solid. Remember Occam ’s razor: the simplest solution is usually the correct one.

Update

A reader recently emailed me an update on the Mobile Citizen deal. I asked if I could share his email and he agreed as long as I qualified the inclusion with the disclaimer “as it was explained to me.” He was concerned some of the details might be wrong. Still, this is powerful information you can use as a starting point in your research.

About MobileCitizen’s wireless ISP. Your blog on this is not particularly clear but the history is that 2.5 GHz was originally licensed to educational institutions for wireless distribution of educational content (e.g. remote classroom TV, etc). Only a few licenses were granted, mostly in large cities. A company called Clearwire came along and and licensed the rest and leased the licenses of the educational entities. The deal the educational entities extracted was that in addition to the lease payments, Clearwire would provide for cheap, unlimited, unthrottled, wireless Internet service to non-profits wherever they provided service. Sprint bought Clearwire and tried to shake off the non-profit requirement but couldn’t. In most places Sprint’s data speeds are not high enough to support most people’s needs (e.g. less that 5 Mbps). Sprint just does not have enough low & mid-band capacity to provide high-speed service everywhere. Only where they have deployed high-band (2.5 GHz) is their network fast enough. Now, T-Mobile proposes to take over Sprint. They will inherit the leases and their legal /contractual requirements. The combined Sprint and T-Mobile will have adequate capacity to provide fast wireless Internet service. MobileCitizen is looking more attractive every day.

v/r D R Newcomb

 

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