Weekend Roundup: Montana Cell Service

New satellites to serve rural areas with data • Coal-country Democrats resist climate-change initiative • Minnesota names a new "Rural Health Hero"

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A lapsed contract between AT&T and Verizon means some rural parts of Montana are without service – including emergency 911 access  – on wireless phones.

NBC Montana reports, “We found Verizon service went dead to areas like Virginia City, Jackson, and Lima at midnight on Sunday. That means no calls in, no calls out and no 9-1-1 service.”

The problem is a three-year contract, which expired Monday, in which AT&T agreed to allow Verizon customers to roam on the AT&T network. AT&T pulled the plug when the contract ended.

Now Verizon is scrambling to put in temporary towers until it builds permanent ones later this summer. The Great Falls Tribune reports the service from those temporary towers leaves something to be desired:

“Verizon brought up this 40-foot antenna, but you really can only get service on it on Main Street,” said Gayle Steinch, the manager of The Bootlegger, a Lincoln, Montana bar and restaurant. “We had a guy in here this morning who has a towing company who missed out on an $1,800 job because his cellphone didn’t get the call.”

Big carriers like Verizon and AT&T are touting the advantages of going wireless and digital for rural communities that are now served by copper lines.

Lapses in service like this, however, are the sort of thing that make rural advocates question the current push to go digital without firmer regulatory control.

The Montana Public Service Commission has received complaints about the service outage and has contacted the Montana Office of Consumer Protection.

Verizon hasn’t explained why they let the roaming contract with AT&T lapse without creating a plan to serve their customers.  

New Satellite Service – O3b Network is launching a set of satellites to provide Internet and digital communications service to rural and underserved parts of the globe. Google is one of the investors. O3b stands for “other three billion,” which is the number of new folks they hope to bring online in the next year.

The company will wholesale bandwidth to wireless and Internet provider companies. They hopes to offer the service at a price that will make access more affordable for underserved parts of the globe.

Discover Magazine online reports that the satellites will orbit closer to earth than conventional satellites, speeding up data transfer. Four satellites launched this week, to be joined by eight more in the future.

Coal Country Democrats. The National Journal reports on the resistance from Democrats in coal country to the president’s climate change initiative. Beside Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, others speaking out about the proposed limits on greenhouse gas emissions are Rep. Nick Rahall of southwest Virginia (3rd) and Rep. Bill Enyart of southern Illinois (12th).

Reid Wilson notes that “Coal country, once a solid-blue spine of Democratic votes running through the Appalachian Mountains, has been turning reliably red in recent years.” Wilson says Jimmy Carter won most of the 421 counties in the Appalachian Regional Commission’s service area in 1976. In 2012 Obama won 30 of those counties.

NBA Draft  Missouri’s small-town basketball star Otto Porter Jr. went third in the NBA draft Thursday. He’ll play for the Washington Wizards. The Washington Post’s Michael Lee has a write-up noting Porter’s heartland roots in Scott County, Missouri. That’s way down in the southeast corner of the state across the Mississippi River from Kentucky and Cairo, Illinois.

Porter’s family knows him as “Bubba” because of his appetite. “My grandmother gave me that name when I was little. Every time I’d go to her house, I’d clean the refrigerator out.”

Lee reports that the 6-8 former Georgetown player is from Sikeston. The Post’s scouting report says he’s from Morley, population 697.

Taking Care of Friends – Minnesota’s newest “Rural Health Hero” is Al Vogt, chief executive officer of Cook Hospital. His citation described him as “an entrepreneur and a collaborator extraordinaire.” Vogt received the award in Duluth at the Minnesota Rural Health Conference.

Vogt is from Glencoe and has been with the hospital in Cook for 37 years. He told the Duluth News Tribune:

“Cook just kind of grew on us. … We raised our family here. We love the community. We got to know people as very good friends, and I want to take care of our friends.” 

 

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