Remote Calif. Town to Finally Get Phone Service Iowa Hill, Calif., a mountain town of about 150 residents, is in a steep, remote location. And with so few customers, phone companies were uninterested in hooking up the town. But thanks to a state grant, Iowa Hill will get a nontraditional microwave land-line service this spring.

Remote Calif. Town to Finally Get Phone Service

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I'm Michele Norris.


I'm Robert Siegel. And this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

NORRIS: It can take a lot of effort to make a phone call in the town of Iowa Hill, California. The remote mountain hamlet is between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe, and it has no landlines. Its 150 residents, instead, rely on cell phones. And even then, coverage is pretty spotty. But thanks to a state grant and the moxie of citizens, like Cathy Morgan, that's going to change as early as this spring. Cathy Morgan joins me now by cell phone.

Hello, Cathy.


NORRIS: Why are there no landlines there in Iowa Hill, and why have you gone so long without landlines?

NORRIS: Well, we are so remote. The road coming up is a one-lane road up the hill and it's like an 18 percent grade. And then we had Verizon, but they really didn't want to do it because there wasn't enough people to make it worthwhile.

NORRIS: And all this time, what did you have to do if you needed to make a phone call?

NORRIS: Actually, when I first moved here in '85, we had an eight-party line, but we had to maintain it. And if it would rain or snow, we still didn't have phones, so we used CB radios.

NORRIS: That works if the other person you're trying to reach has a CB radio.

NORRIS: Well, yeah. We couldn't call out to doctors or anything like that.

NORRIS: Now, I imagine that things started to change in the last decade with cell phones.

NORRIS: Cell phones, except that most of the people can't get out from their homes. They have to go two or three miles. And they have places on the road they call phone booths because it's now a place they can get out on them.

NORRIS: So it's not actually a phone booth, but it's a place that everybody knows is a hotspot.

NORRIS: No, it's not actually a phone booth. They're amongst the trees, standing in the middle of the road.

NORRIS: So, my goodness, what was it like when you were trying to figure out where the hotspots were? If you found one, you probably had to mark it somehow.

NORRIS: I found one, but mine is two miles away from my house.

NORRIS: You mentioned something - and pardon me for asking you this - that was difficult to call doctors. I understand that that was actually a very difficult situation for you when a family member got sick.

NORRIS: He was sick for a long time. But he got a blood clot and I couldn't get out to 911. And when I finally got 911, they put me on hold. And I finally went out the driveway and called the fire chief. And by the time she got here, my husband was gone.

NORRIS: Did that motivate you to push even harder to get some sort of service up there?

NORRIS: Yeah. And the fact - we've had several incidents up here. I remember, we've had a guy that cut his fingers off, we couldn't get through to help. If you get hurt up here, you shoot your gun three times and hope somebody comes.

NORRIS: Really, that's the protocol?


NORRIS: So, Mrs. Morgan, when you finally get that phone service some time in the spring, who do you think you're going to make your first phone call to?

NORRIS: Probably my kids.

NORRIS: Where are they?

NORRIS: They're in Arizona, yeah.

NORRIS: So how do you keep up with them now?

NORRIS: I go down three miles down the road and call them.

NORRIS: Ah, okay. I thought you guys maybe write a lot of letters.

NORRIS: No. We only get mail delivery three times a week up here.

NORRIS: Well, congratulations, Cathy Morgan. Thanks so much for talking to us.

NORRIS: Okay. Thank you.

NORRIS: And that was Cathy Morgan of Iowa Hill, California, talking about the town's new phone service set to begin this spring.

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