Some rural Montana residents are learning they’ll soon be without cell phone service after Verizon Wireless quietly informed them they’re dropping them.

At issues are accounts that use too much data outside the network.

Notification letters were sent to 919 customers, accounting for 2,035 lines, Verizon spokeswoman Meagan Dorsch said. They’ll be dropped Oct. 17, so there’s time to port wireless numbers to other companies before their Verizon service ends.

“This only affects a few people who primarily roam on other networks and does not affect customers who primarily use Verizon’s own network,” she explained. “We regularly review accounts with data use that primarily takes place outside of the Verizon network.”

Customers said they didn’t know Verizon had been using other providers’ towers and, now are faced with limited options.

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Four wildfires have burned 390 square miles of farmland and public land in eastern Montana. The four fires have burned at least 16 homes since lightning ignited them last Wednesday. (July 26)
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A primary concern is how this will impact emergency services. In rural Montana, neighbors are one another’s first responders come fire, flood or heart attack.

“Probably 90% of our paging goes through Verizon texts. We use texts in tactical situations where radios will not work also,” said Steve Leitner, service director of the ambulance service in Blaine County, Mont., on the Canadian border.

But cell phones are sometimes exactly how a first responder even knows to show up.

JJ French, a volunteer firefighter in Plentywood who has Verizon, said sometimes, the pager for he uses fire calls doesn’t connect with the nearest tower but his phone does — or vice versa. Before switching to Verizon Wireless, he had spotty coverage with a local provider, but now he’ll likely have no choice.