See the end of this post for the March 2015 update. I got it working again for now.
Earlier this year, I upgraded to an Alcatel OneTouch Fierce smartphone from the $20 cheapo phone I was using and was pretty happy to be back in the Android camp with all the available apps and the usable ‘Net and mail features I’d been doing without, not to mention the 4G service that Sprint had never delivered in this area but charged me for anyway. About a month ago, I noticed the hotspot feature on the Alcatel and, for $5 / month, figured it was a great deal. Now, I could share my 4G signal with my laptop, log in more securely in public and even have a backup broadband service for my PC when my ISP’s service occasionally flakes out.
All was going good for about a month until this weekend when the hotspot suddenly stopped working. My PC and laptop would still show a good connection to the hotspot but I couldn’t load any pages in the browser. Chrome would spend about 15 seconds trying to establish a connection and then report that the page took too long to load. Firefox was the same. I tried with three different machines and three different operating systems (Windows XP / 7 and 8) and all did the same.