Rhame area added to list to receive cell tower
The Rhame area may be receiving a cell tower, but it could be at least two years before it's built, but even then may not completely solve the bad cell phone service in the area.
The area was added to Verizon's build plan, according to recent correspondence between the company and the state Public Service Commission.
After an October public meeting with the PSC in Rhame, it was made evident that better cell phone service was needed in the southwestern corner of Bowman county, as well as portions of South Dakota and Montana, prompting the PSC to reach out to Alltel and Verizon Wireless for additional towers.
In January, a response was issued by Diana Stevens, manager of Partnership Relations and Accounting for Verizon Wireless.
"The company's current build plan for this service area has been set for the next two years," Stevens wrote. "Unfortunately, Rhame is not included in the build plan. Although we continually survey and re-evaluate areas where there are coverage deficiencies, we have not ruled out the Rhame, North Dakota area."
Stevens added the Rhame area has been added to the future build plan list.
PSC Commissioner Kevin Cramer said there are portions in southwest North Dakota where gaps in cell phone service are evident.
Though the PSC does not regulate where and when towers are put up, Cramer said they try to influence cell companies as best they can.
"Cell phones five or 10 years ago, were somewhat of a luxury," Cramer said. "But now they've become almost a necessity because of the issue of public safety. It's really more of a lack of having that extra opportunity, that extra tool for safety."
Commissioner Tony Clark added he was disappointed with the response from Verizon, which recently purchased Alltel.
"They didn't commit to anything in that area, they said they'd continue to look at it in future years," Clark said. "I would have hoped that we could have gotten something a little more definitive about when a build might be planned."
Bowman County Emergency Manager Dean Pearson said he was also disappointed in the response from Verizon.
"There was a lot of effort that went in the Rhame community for that, and we were hoping that they would look favorably on us, but didn't turn out that way," Pearson said of residents' effort.
Pearson said the lack of cell phone coverage in near the Rhame area could become a problem.
"The area south and west of Rhame we don't have cell phone coverage because of the terrain out there," Everybody's got cell phones so if there is an emergency or a fire or something like that, people can dial 911 much more readily and get the notice out sooner. Not having that will definitely have a detrimental impact."
Use of radios is one way Pearson said they are getting around the problem, though they don't always work in due to terrain.
Radios used in vehicles can reach throughout the county, he added.
Laurie Reichenberg, owner of The Pastime bar and restaurant in nearby Marmarth, said cell-phone service in town is almost non-existent.
"When the oil field activity and all the people were so dependent on cell phones were here five years ago it would have been a great idea for them to have it (a tower) up," Reichenberg said. "We rely on the landlines for in-town service but I think the majority of people still pay a cell phone bill for when they leave town."
Reichenberg, who has had both Alltel and Verizon in the past, said with Alltel, you almost have to be in Baker to receive cell phone service, about 18 miles away and almost to Bowman, east of Rhame to receive continual service. With Verizon, Reichenberg said she can receive some service within her home, but nowhere else.
Rhame being a less-populated area might have made it a little bit harder of a sell, Clark said.
"The first thing they look at is population," Clark said. "I think there is a story to be told and I'm going to keep working on that as much as I can and talking to them to try to keep fighting for a cell tower down there. There are some unique circumstances down there that they might not fully appreciate."
Highway 12, a well-traveled road going through the area and the amount of energy development are both reasons a tower should be established, Clark said.
"It's an area that has an importance to it that exceeds its population," Clark said.
Though cell phone tower in the area would not cover everywhere, Clark said one tower placed strategically could make a big difference.
Karen Smith, Great Plains region spokesperson for Verizon said they have not written off the area.
Verizon has built 27 new cell sites and spent $20.9 million in network improvements in North Dakota in 2008, Smith said.
"We understand people being interested in coverage in the area," Smith said. "We even look beyond two years in terms of future site builds. We will be building new cell sites in North Dakota this year and they will be in rural areas, not just in the cities."