TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Residents Fight to Keep Analog Cell Phones

Residents Fight to Keep Analog Cell Phones

Chet Brokaw (
Tue, 26 Jul 2005 14:16:45 -0500

By CHET BROKAW, Associated Press Writer

Johnny Smith has a new digital cell phone, but he relies on an older
analog bag phone when he travels the wide open spaces in the western
part of the state to line up cattle for sale at a local livestock

In rural areas where cellular towers are far apart, analog phones
often work when digital models can't get a signal. With the Federal
Communications Commission pushing the move to all-digital phone
service across the country, Smith and others in rural areas are urging
the agency to wait until more towers are built to improve service.

"I carry a bag phone just because I can get so much better reception
with it," Smith said. "If you're out in the middle of no place, it's
nice to be able to call somebody."

According to current timelines set up by the FCC, wireless companies
can phase out analog service by 2008. By the end of this year, the
agency also is requiring that 95 percent of each wireless company's
customers have digital phones containing chips that allow emergency
operators to pinpoint a person's location when a call is placed to

The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission will attempt to rally
support for a resolution seeking to suspend or modify the deadline on
location-capable phones Tuesday at the National Association of
Regulatory Utilities Commissioners meeting in Austin, Texas.

Bob Sahr, a PUC member, said he hopes the FCC will look at the
situation on a case-by-case basis to give continued support to analog
service in rural areas that need the older technology. In some areas,
it's the only kind of service that works, he said.

"If we phase those people out, they may be in a situation where they
have this brand new, state-of-the-art digital phone with all sorts of
bells and whistles, but they're not going to be able to complete the
call in the first place," Sahr said.

The Rural Cellular Association and CTIA-The Wireless Association,
which both represent wireless companies, also support suspending the
deadline. Companies do not want to force their customers to switch to
newer phones until it makes sense to do so, RCA executive director Tim
Raven said.

"We have instances every day in local markets where folks are rescued
because of their cell phones. It's just a matter of working up the
technology issues and obstacles," he said.

The FCC has not responded to the request, and officials said the
commission does not comment on pending matters. The agency has already
granted some companies waivers from the deadline based on local

The National Emergency Number Association, whose aim is to implement a
universal emergency telephone number system, opposes a blanket delay
in the move to the new digital phones, said Rick Jones, director of
operations issues for the organization. However, the group is also
willing to consider requests for waivers by individual companies in
areas where a delay might make sense, he said.

As of June, less than half the nation's 911 call centers had the
capability of locating a cell phone containing one of the chips, Jones
said. The call centers with the technology covered nearly 58 percent
of the nation's population but less than 36 percent of its counties,
he said.

In many states in the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains, less than 20
percent of call centers are capable of locating a cell phone, Jones

That number may not improve unless more funding is allocated. Jones
said Congress passed a bill authorizing $250 million a year for five
years to help call centers install the new phone-locating technology,
but the funding has yet to be appropriated.

In the meantime, residents of rural areas will continue to fight to
keep their old analog service. Emmer Hulce of Midland, S.D., said he
wants to keep his analog bag phone so he can call family members
without racking up long-distance charges.

"There's no chance of going with digital. I had digital and that
wasn't as good as the analog," the 79-year-old retired power company
worker said.

On the Net:
Federal Communications Commission:
National Emergency Number Association:
Rural Cellular Association:
CTIA-The Wireless Association:

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.

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