Company wins $10.2M grant for rural cell service

Associated Press Modified: October 3, 2012 at 4:01 pm •  Published: October 3, 2012

ARLINGTON, Ala. (AP) — A small company won a $10 million federal grant to expand wireless service in one of Alabama's most isolated regions, a five-county area west of Montgomery where it's sometimes impossible to make a cellphone call.

Pine Belt Cellular was the only company that sought the money through a competitive bid process to build new cellphone infrastructure along almost 1,600 miles of roads in the area, the Federal Communications Commission said Wednesday.

The president of the family-owned company, John Nettles, said Pine Belt will use the funding to construct and connect towers and antennas in parts of Choctaw, Dallas, Marengo, Perry and Wilcox counties. The area to be covered with new services stretches from metro Montgomery to the Mississippi state line.

"It's mainly rural communities. It's a patchwork," said Nettles.

Aside from letting larger carriers pay to use the network, Nettles said Pine Belt Carrier hoped to expand its customer base, which now consists of fewer than 2,000 users. That's part of the problem of expanding cell service in rural areas: The lack of users makes it difficult financially.

"It is our goal to double our subscriber base," he said.

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