November 26, 1995 in Nation/World

Idaho Leaves Rural Stores Out Of Loop Phone Lines Can’t Handle Computerized Game Licensing System

By The Spokesman-Review

The 103-year-old Naples General Store has sold hunting and fishing licenses as long as anyone can remember.

Not anymore. The Naples store and six others in North Idaho won’t sell the licenses next year.

They didn’t do anything wrong. The problem, state officials say, is that the telephone lines leading to the remote stores aren’t so-called “data quality” lines used for transmitting computer data.

Starting Dec. 18, the only way to get an Idaho fishing or hunting license is through the state’s new computerized system. It’s distributing 588 computer terminals to stores throughout the state.

That’s left a handful of remote stores - which sell thousands of licenses each year - out of the loop.

“As far as I knew, I thought I was ready to go,” said Earl Berwick, who runs the Naples store.

On Wednesday, he received a letter from Fish and Game saying the department couldn’t connect his store to the system. Sportsmen will have to drive to Bonners Ferry or Sandpoint.

“It will impact us,” Berwick said. “The customers won’t understand it. They’re going to show up and they’re going to be angry.”

At Babin’s Store, north of Kingston, hunters crowd in every fall to buy shells, hot dogs, beer - and hunting licenses and tags. Anglers come every spring, many driving straight from Spokane to the store on the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River. Last year, Babin’s sold about 1,000 hunting and fishing licenses - and it was a slow year.

Rich Babin has sold licenses for 18 years. In preparation for the new computer system, he rewired part of his store. On Wednesday, he got the same letter Berwick did.

“They are denying me my livelihood,” said Babin. “Licenses bring people in, and they buy other things. The state’s pulling a real dirty deed on us.”

“All these little stores are going to be no more, and people are going to wonder why,” added his wife, Mary Anne Babin.

At Fish and Game headquarters in Boise, administration bureau chief Steve Barton said the problem isn’t the new computer system - it’s the phone lines.

“There’s nothing we can do,” he said. “It’s a phone company issue.”

And the only phone company that’s had the problem in North Idaho, he said, is GTE.

In Beaverton, Ore., GTE spokesman Bob Wayt pointed the finger back at Idaho Fish and Game, saying the department waited until Oct. 1 before mentioning that it needed 103 data-quality telephone lines in North Idaho.

Since then, Wayt said, the company scrambled to install 96 of the lines.

“The remaining seven sites are all in rural, low-growth areas without the facilities currently needed to provide data service,” he said. “The cost of providing necessary facilities is prohibitive - in some cases, $50,000 or more per site.”

Wayt did, however, add that GTE is studying the seven sites and will decide next week whether it can afford data-quality equipment there.

At the same time, Barton said, Fish and Game is trying to develop a special computer modem to allow the remote stores to tap into the state system over regular “voice lines.” Ideally, he said, the connection might be possible by the middle of next year.

It would be impractical, he said, to let the seven stores continue the current licensing system, which tracks everything on paper forms.

“There is a tremendous cost of having to run two different systems,” Barton said.

He said Fish and Game decided to computerize licenses because the department can get the data much faster, and saves considerable accounting work for stores. Vendors also never will run out of licenses - a common occurrence during the height of hunting season.

For sportsmen, Barton said, the computer system also will make it much easier to reissue lost licenses.

The state is picking up most of the tab for the computers, phone lines and special software. Total price is about $1.4 million.

, DataTimes

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