HARMONY — The dead zones are gone.

Cellphone users living in and passing through the Somerset County towns of Harmony and Cambridge are now able to place and receive calls ever since a new U.S. Cellular tower went up on Sugar Hill Road in Harmony a couple weeks ago. The tower was erected on leased land about a mile off Route 150 north of Harmony village.

For shop owners, emergency responders and residents, the days of “can you hear me now” are over. Even so, in a rural region unaccustomed to cell service, not everyone thinks it’s a good thing.

Tracy Morrison at Morrison’s Garage in Harmony village said he isn’t giving up the business landline just yet, but is pleased to finally have cell service. An ancient pay phone still hangs on the wall outside, “inactive” for a good 10-15 years.

“I’m very pleased that we have cell service now, and it’s good coverage,” Morrison said. “It was very spotty before, nothing you could depend on.”

Morrison said there were a couple of spots in Harmony where people had to drive to in order to make cellphone calls. One was off Route 150, the Athens Road, by the Hair Shack salon. The other was at a farm on Chadbourne Road.

“Everybody had to go to those two spots to call or it was going to fade on you,” Morrison said. “Now it’s good. I don’t know why anybody wouldn’t want it, but everybody I’ve talked to is happy.”

Morrison said he has had a cellphone, but used it more when he was out of town than when he was in town. He said there has been no cell service for the many visitors to the annual Harmony Labor Day Free Fair and no service for area loggers and truckers.

“Communication is going to be so much better for the area,” he said.

Over at the Cambridge General Store & Restaurant just up the road from Harmony, men having coffee and breakfast on a recent morning had conflicting views about the arrival of cell service.

Some, such as Larry Brennick and Michael Watson, didn’t see much use for the devices, saying people texting and talking on cellphones is downright antisocial.

“It’s destroying face-to-face communication,” Watson said. “I walked into a place — not here — but I walked in and there were three people in there, each one of them texting and not talking to one another. There are benefits to ’em without a doubt, but I got friends — they never put ’em down.”

Others such as Robert Folsom, the fire chief in Cambridge, said cell service is an essential tool when it comes to emergency services in rural Maine, where radio service from the communications center in Skowhegan some 25 miles isn’t always reliable.

“Our radio coverage here from Somerset County has always been spotty at best,” Folsom said over bacon and eggs, home fries, coffee and an English muffin. “We have relied on the phones to help fill in the week spots for the radios. Before we had only limited coverage here in town. Now about everywhere in town you have full coverage.”

U.S. Cellular said in a statement that after evaluating a variety of locations and customer feedback, the company invested in a new cell site “to provide the best wireless experience to our customers in Harmony with a fast 4G LTE network so they can stay connected to the people and information that is important to them whenever and wherever they need it.”

The new tower is a 300-foot guyed tower owned by U.S. Cellular that was constructed with funding from the Universal Service Fund. Universal service is the principle that all Americans should have access to communications services, according to the Federal Communications Commission web site. Universal service is also the name of a fund and the category of FCC programs and policies to implement this principle.

“As is our standard practice, we have ensured that the cell tower aligns with local regulations and health, safety and environmental guidelines set forth by the FCC,” the company said in the statement. “The tower will strengthen our wireless network for Harmony customers by enhancing call quality and high-speed data and overall network coverage that they depend on for emergency calls, to keep in touch with loved ones and conduct important business.”

The new tower allows for other wireless carriers to jump on board, but to date there have been no applications to co-locate on the new tower, according to the company.

Across from Morrison’s in Harmony village, Ron Robinson, owner of C&R General Store, said the new tower offers cell phone reception they never had before.

“People can call in orders more from the kitchen,” he said. “We had limited service, put it that way. Before you had to find the right spot to stand in — or climb a tree.”

Folsom, the Cambridge fire chief, said being able to communicate by cellphone can expedite mutual aid, ambulance service and wreckers for motor vehicle accidents. First responders can talk directly to county deputies responding to emergencies as well, he said. Dispatchers in Skowhegan often want emergency medical and fire personnel to call them so that sensitive information is not shared over the air, Folsom said.

General store owner Tim Bard said the first-ever cellphone call was made from inside the store the day the tower was activated.

He said some folks have suggested that people talking on their cellphones ruins the whole atmosphere of the store and that he should tell customers to turn their phones off when they come to eat there.

“I probably won’t do anything about it,” Bard said later. “It doesn’t bother me that much, but I thought it was quaint the way that it always was and nobody could use their cellphones, but time moves ahead, and everybody’s got to move with it.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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