With cell phone services on the chopping block in rural areas, some say there is reason for optimism

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - People in rural areas are having trouble staying connected. For some, cellphone coverage will soon not be an option. Melissa Atkinson, a Hammond, Montana native, says she recently received a letter from her cellphone carrier Verizon Wireless. The crux is that she is using too much roaming data on the network, so they will no longer offering her service.

Jill Canfield from NTCA - The Rural Broadband Association says there is a federal push to expand mobile services to every community in the nation.

“Our phones are our lifelines out here,” said Atkinson.

A lifeline, Atkinson says that will not be available Oct. 17. She says Verizon is the only option in her area because the local provider isn’t able to take on new customers. She says she is 50 miles away from any services. She says cell phones are how she stays connected to everything and everyone, including her autistic son.

“He gets angry at school and he can contact me and say, ‘Mom, I’m upset.’ And I can calm him down,” said Atkinson.

Atkinson says she thinks she became too costly for Verizon. She is holding out hope that folks in Washington can come to some solution to bring rural areas fully into the 21st century.

“We’re optimistic that we’ll actually bring service to areas that currently don’t have it,” said Jill Canfield from the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association.

Canfield says the regulatory processes have hampered mobile expansion in the United States. She says these big wireless companies are in no way bad actors, and that the country is headed toward service everywhere.

“It’s very difficult for those communities that don’t have it now. But when you look at the country as a whole, we’re doing a decent job. We’re getting there,” said Canfield.

Canfield says there is a dedicated government fund that will build cell towers in rural areas. She says that money will be spread out over the next 10 years.