Can you hear me now? Likely not if you are in Kraemer

To backup or not to backup: locals agree this is a no-brainer
July 18, 2012
Tradeoffs part of finding right cell phone plan
July 18, 2012
To backup or not to backup: locals agree this is a no-brainer
July 18, 2012
Tradeoffs part of finding right cell phone plan
July 18, 2012

No, they can’t hear you. The gaps in Big Mobile corporations’ color-coded coverage maps are legitimate.

Kraemer residents are evidence that technology sometimes forsakes rural areas; the north Lafourche inhabitants are among a sliver of Americans who don’t have reliable mobile phone service.

Although it seemed that relief was on the way this year, AT&T at the last minute pulled funding set aside to construct a tower in Kraemer, according to state Rep. Dee Richard.

“That was out of our hands,” the Thibodaux independent said. “The money was budgeted the last two or three years, and each time it gets cut and put somewhere else. We just have to keep trying.”

According to Richard and Lafourche Councilman Michael Delatte, various service providers say Kraemer, which had a population of 934 in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, doesn’t have enough residents to require a new tower.

Sue Sperry, spokeswoman with AT&T Louisiana, said a Kraemer tower was in the company’s “initial plans, but we had some funding reductions” in 2012. Sperry added that it would be “premature” to discuss what could happen next year.

Richard said a local landowner has already agreed to lease land to AT&T, but Sperry said she’s unaware of any such arrangement.

Construction of a tower would cost about $600,000, Sperry said. Contractors have to take into account several variables when building new infrastructure, such as hurricane-force winds, that raise the cost on projects and cause some to be postponed, she added.

AT&T invested $1.2 billion in Louisiana between 2009 and 2011, Sperry said. Those capital projects included mobile broadband coverage and overall network performance. In 2011, the company made about 2,300 network upgrades in the state, she added.

“We’re always investing in the network, but there’s a finite amount of projects you can do in a year,” the AT&T spokeswoman said.

Kraemer is tucked between Chackbay and Raceland off La. Highway 307, northeast of Thibodaux. The closest cell tower, operated by Verizon, is located in Chackbay, according to AT&T’s tower on Peltier Drive in Thibodaux is the next closest.

“(Kraemer) is a close-knit community,” Richard said. “Everybody else has the availability of cellphones in an emergency situation. Why shouldn’t they?”

The farther northeast one travels away from Chackbay, the more eager residents are to talk about the lack of reliable service.

Locals say the absence of a tower requires them to pay more money for less reliability, not to mention that it creates ever-present vulnerability should an emergency arise.

Melanie Martinez, a Kraemer resident, said she was stranded for half an hour on La. Highway 307 east of the drawbridge (which residents call Coteau Road) due to a flat tire on her car.

Cell service is mostly nonexistent here, along the two-lane snaking highway where “only swamps and cane fields” hug the roadway, which extends to U.S. Highway 90.

Luckily for Martinez, passers-by relayed her message, and assistance did come fairly quickly. Still, being stranded was a scary moment. “There was no means of getting help,” Martinez said.

The absence of reliable service requires all residents to have a landline in addition to their cell service. They don’t have the choice to cancel landline service, so the phone bill is a sort of mandatory duplication.

“If the landline goes out, we’re stuck with nothing (at our homes),” said Ann Legendre, of Kraemer.

Heidi Cortez held up her iPhone, which was searching for service. “It’s been doing this for 15 minutes,” she said.

Legendre, Martinez, Cortez and Dawn Hotard, while enjoying a Sunday afternoon together, said they first became aware of issues that come with unreliable service after Hurricane Katrina. Landlines and cellphone access were down everywhere, they said, but it was an example of how isolated their community is during times of need.

Other residents, particularly those who live closer to Chackbay, say Verizon phones work most of the time and AT&T service is spotty.

While Kraemer scurries to catch up, America is moving on. Eighty-five percent of Americans 18 and older own a cellphone, according to Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project results released last year. For context, 50 percent of those adults own a desktop computer and 5 percent, an e-reader.

Forty percent of cellphone owners claim their mobile device helped them in an emergency, a separate Pew study revealed.

Delatte is in his ninth year representing Kraemer on the Lafourche Parish Council. He said he has worked on resolving the issue his entire tenure, adding that the solution is out of locals’ hands. “There’s nothing we can do,” he said.

Richard said he plans to hold a community meeting next month in Kraemer to discuss the lack of a cell tower. Sperry said AT&T has no plans to discuss the Kraemer situation publicly.