Residents of the remote community of Iowa Hill have their first landline telephones, 134 years after the phone was invented, thanks to the efforts of Placer County, the telephone company that serves Foresthill and California State officials.
The new phone service was launched recently after Sebastian, a local service provider formerly known as the Foresthill Telephone Co., completed final testing in October.
The Placer County Board of Supervisors celebrated the new phone service on Tuesday, Nov. 23 when it adopted a resolution formally certifying the project as complete and by turning it over to the local telephone company.
Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery, who represents Iowa Hill, said, “This is a day long in coming and welcomed by the residents of Iowa Hill and the County alike. Never again will phone service be unavailable in private homes, leaving people like Cathy Morgan unable to reach emergency personnel in times of real crisis. I am humbled to have been part of this success story.”
Having a landline telephone service is critical in emergencies, since it gives Iowa Hill residents reliable access to law enforcement, fire agencies and medical aid services utilizing the county emergency 911 system.
Iowa Hill is only about six miles from Interstate 80 as the crow flies, but motorists must navigate an extremely steep one-lane road that descends to the bottom of the North Fork of the American River Canyon and has several hairpin turns and switchbacks on its climb back up the canyon’s south wall.
Residents typically do not receive good cell phone coverage because of Iowa Hill’s remote location in mountainous terrain.
Construction of the infrastructure for the landline system was financed with a grant from the California Public Utilities Commission through the state’s Rural Telecommunications Infrastructure Grant Program.
Assembly Bill 140, which became law on Jan. 1, 2002, created a grant program funded via the California High Cost Fund A for the purpose of expanding telecommunications service to low-income households in currently unserved rural areas of California. Each community selected for grant funding was eligible to receive up to $2.5 million for completion of a telecommunications service infrastructure. Money for the grant program comes from small surcharges on telephone bills in California.
Private-sector companies frequently find it too expensive to develop regular landline telephone systems for isolated communities on their own.
Placer County’s Administrative Services Department submitted a grant request in cooperation with the Telephone Committee of the Iowa Hill Community Club. The application included letters of support from more than 75 percent of the community’s residents.
An estimated 250 people live in the Iowa Hill area. At the time the grant application was filed, the community had about 25 residents who were more than 60 years old and 11 who were disabled.
Established in 1853 during the Gold Rush, Iowa Hill once had a thriving business district that featured three large grocery stores, four hotels, five clothing stores, a brewery and soda factory, bowling alleys and lager beer saloons by 1861.
At one time, the community had an old-fashioned “farmer line,” a single telephone wire that stretched from Colfax to Iowa Hill. It was a “party line” that gave Iowa Hill residents telephone access to Colfax as a group, but not individual telephone lines. No dialing was necessary. The system eventually fell into disrepair and went out of service.
Today, Iowa Hill has a general store, volunteer fire department and post office. At the time of the application, the post office was believed to be the only U.S. Postal Service facility in California that didn’t have regular landline telephone service. The community also has a one-room elementary school.
“To me, the phone service up there is important in case of emergencies more than anything,” said Luana Dowling, an Iowa Hill resident who is chief of its volunteer fire department and administrative captain for the Foresthill Fire Protection District.
So far, about 54 Iowa Hill households have signed up for the new phone service.