I tripped over a conversation among Sprint users across America's heartland and found that Sprint's Rural Alliance seemed to be falling apart. The most detailed report we found was from an Oklahoma newspaper article that reported Sprint was changing its operating capabilities because so many of their customers were using expensive roaming data.
A few years ago we reported a similar situation across Wyoming and Montana where Sprint lost Alltel coverage areas as "native" Sprint service. That meant Sprint customers were no longer allowed to use that coverage as their "home" network, and eventually, that CDMA coverage went away. We were taken to task when we showed Sprint as missing that local coverage when a few users were disturbed to find it was no longer included in their regular bucket of minutes or data.
Now a similar change is occurring in rural Oklahoma and Kansas where once was "home' coverage is now roaming. The good news is that service is still available although download speeds may be reduced and roaming charges (or penalties) may increase. This affects a very small portion of Sprint customers, but if that's you, it could be a big deal. It also shows more cracks in the armor of Sprint's on-network-only Unlimited plans that a few Sprint customers depend on.
"New" Sprint coverage in the Chicago to St. Louis area does not make up for these losses. Those territories gained from US Cellular only make the Sprint network a bit more robust in those areas. The real issue here for users like us is that we still depend on a certain amount of roaming when we stray away from home, and it may cost more.