Monday, August 13, 2007

2005: last Louisianans get phone service

In February 2005, 14 homes in a remote community in southwest Louisiana finally received a telephone service after decades of campaigning. The hamlet of Mink is believed to be one of the very last places in the US to get land lines.

The benefits of the new service came immediately. A query as to whether a neighbor can lend a cup of sugar no longer requires a car journey or a hike through the woods.

The people in Mink, set in deep forest about 100 miles south-west of Shreveport, had been pestering the state authorities for years about getting phones but the remoteness of the community and the associated cost were stacked against them.

The villagers did the best they could. Some had analog cellular “bag phones” that worked in a very limited number of locations. Moving just a few yards, from the kitchen to the living room for instance, would lose the signal.

Mink resident Julian Ray said one of the places blessed with a signal was the crossroads at the local store. He said you would regularly see the locals gathered at the spot, their bulky phones pressed to their ears.

Ray was luckier than most. His home also had a hotspot so he could make and receive incoming calls, though not to or from any of the villagers -- unless they happened to be standing at the crossroads when he called.

The phones have not come cheap. BellSouth (now part of AT&T, which used to be SBC) spent $700,000 installing 28 miles of cable, plus equipment. "It was a lot of expense," admitted Kevin McCotter, a BellSouth spokesman, who said the Louisiana Public Service Commission ordered the company to install the lines last year after decades of pestering from the locals. "It is a very, very rural area. The people just chose to live out in the middle of a forest. It's not a town or even a municipal district. They just live there." The completion was marked by a ceremonial phone call from Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco.

While most villagers appreciate the benefits of their new phones and have talked enthusiastically about the new freedom it has given them, they have also learned some of the perils that can associated with modern telecommunications. Just 15 minutes after Elaine Edwards' phone was installed on Monday, she received a call from a telemarketer. (info from Independent Newspapers UK Limited)

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