- Associated Press - Sunday, April 24, 2016

LANGFORD, S.D. (AP) - While the rest of the world goes wireless, the residents of Langford find themselves in a “dead zone” of little to no cellphone coverage.

Residents have learned to adapt.

Taylor Anderson commutes from his main office at Northeast Chiropractic in Aberdeen to Langford once a week for business, the Aberdeen American News (https://bit.ly/22Oxj6H ) reported.

“I’ll forward calls from my office phone to my cellphone. I had to put a booster in my pickup just for that reason - because the cellphone service there isn’t that great. I’ve had trouble getting calls to go through in that area,” said Anderson, who grew up in the Eden area. He said poor cellphone reception has always been a characteristic of Marshall County.

“I’m always up there fishing, too, and you can’t get reception at a lot of the lakes,” he said.



While rural America often finds itself behind in technology, Langford’s problems go beyond mere inconvenience.

Marshall County Emergency Management Director Todd Landmark said losing reception is not due to a lack of radio or cellphone towers, though the county’s emergency departments use other options.

“We have a Verizon tower right in Britton and they still have problems east of Britton. And there’s an AT&T tower 6 miles south of town and people still have coverage problems,” Landmark said. The county’s fire department also uses signal boosters and paging systems to combat the service problems, but Landmark said that’s not always the go-to solution for area folks.

“I know people that almost have to stand outside their house to have their phone work,” Landmark said. “The fire department has a signal booster for their paging system, because we know there is a radio problem down there. But sometimes even law enforcement, when they’re in that Langford area, sometimes their radios don’t work and that’s been a problem since the 1980s. They’ve never figured out what that is.”

Landmark said he worked as a deputy sheriff in Marshall County from 1984 to 1999, and said in the last 10 years the service has greatly improved - but still has problem areas.

“As far as local service like right in Langford, we’re a dead spot,” said Langford resident Paula Jensen.

“So a lot of people are solving that issue by getting boosters and putting boosters in their homes, but that’s not 100 percent the answer.”

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It appears that, for now, there is not much that can be done.

South Dakota Public Utilities Commission Chairman Chris Nelson said that the commission does not have regulatory authority over wireless communications, which is ultimately handled at the federal level, while tower installation is ultimately a decision made by the wireless company.

“However, we do what we can to resolve complaints with wireless customers,” Nelson said, adding that while the commission cannot order a wireless company to put up a tower, if there are a cluster of complaints, then the commission can put pressure on a wireless company to do so.

Nelson said that there have been no recent complaints from Langford residents.

Jensen said years ago the residents of Langford signed a petition asking that wireless cellphone companies put up a tower in the town, but were told by Verizon that the population per capita was too low to warrant adding a tower at that location.

Marshall County Sheriff Dale Elsen is no stranger to the cellphone and radio reception issues in that area, either, and cited low elevation and tower locations as the problem’s main cause.

“Our law enforcement radios at times don’t work because what happens is we have a tower in Marshall County, Webster has a tower, Aberdeen has a tower, and Langford is in a bowl,” Elsen said.

“It’s in at a lower level of earth and the sound waves travel over the top and don’t fall in there,” Elsen said of why the Langford area has poor wireless service.

Elsen said it’s not uncommon to hear Brown County’s dispatch over his radio clearly while in the Veblen or Langford area, yet he is unable to pick up the closer Marshall County dispatch, due to the geography of the area.

The elevation of Langford is 1,371 feet, while the elevation of Webster is 1,857.

The elevation of the Coteau des Prairies region, which the towns are located in, ranges from 1,600 to 2,000 feet.

“We’ve got other dead spots in the county as well, where you’ll be driving down the road, like about 7 miles east of Britton, all of a sudden, your phone just dies,” Elsen said.

“If I drive into Veblen, I lose the ability to call somebody. I’ve got to wait until I get to the next highest point, stop where I’m at, then finish the call and then keep going whereI’m going.”

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Langford resident Kayla Suther, who works at Hewitt Insurance Agency, said there are limited ways to dealing with a lack of cellphone service.

“It’s a problem at home for sure. We essentially don’t get any cellphone service in our house. Once we get home, we’re pretty much unreachable,” said Suther, who lives at home with her husband and young children.

“If I get business calls - I get work calls at odd hours - I’ve found myself standing in the middle of the street and just have kids follow me out in the middle of the street while I’m on the phone trying to take care of business.”

If it’s inconvenient to go outside for better cellphone reception, Suther said she lets her phone calls go to voicemail and deals with them when she gets back into a better cellphone reception area.

Mark Hanse of Langford said he and his family deal with the poor cellphone reception just as folks would back when cellphones didn’t exist.

Hanse said communication is the key with his teenage children.

“They always let me know where they’re going. So I kind of know when they’re supposed to be home,” Hanse said.

“If they can’t get through to me or can’t get a text to me, they’ll get ahold of me other ways. It’s kind of the way we got ahold of each other when we didn’t have a cellphone.”

Hanse said it’s just a fact of life for residents living in the area, which he called “not very habitable for technology.”

“It’s almost like if you never had it, it’s not a big deal. But now that you have it, it is a big deal,” he said.

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Information from: Aberdeen American News, https://www.aberdeennews.com

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