North Country lawmakers push task force on cellphone service gaps

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PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. – North Country lawmakers are seeking an update from Gov. Andrew Cuomo on a task force that had been looking into cell phone service gaps across Upstate New York.

The Upstate Cellular Coverage Task Force first met nearly two years ago, and elected officials are starting to wonder when the information gathered during that process will be put into a plan of action.

“It’s a matter of public safety,” said Assemblyman Billy Jones. “Families depend on it, businesses depend on it, so we need to address this issue.”

Jones was one of several lawmakers who sent a letter to the Governor asking for more information on the report’s status last week. A letter was also sent back in March to no avail. Jones himself was on the task force.

“It’s really important to my constituents and the entire North Country here that we get to implementing some of these recommendations so that our residents can have better cell phone coverage, which they desperately need,” Jones said.

State Senator Dan Stec, who also signed off on the letter, recalled an incident that happened over a decade ago when an elderly couple was driving in a snowstorm and slid off the interstate in an area with bad reception. He said one of them passed away because they were unable to call for help.

“We’re not talking about people who have chosen to live off the grid 10 miles off the road,” Stec said. “These are people on state highways that don’t have good cell service. This is the traveling public, so even if you don’t live here, if you’re coming from Long Island or Westchester, you’re just as likely to have car trouble, break down, and need to call for help.”

Senator Stec said if a report does arrive, discussions could begin with carriers regarding what it would take to expand service, possibly in a public/private partnership like the state did with broadband.

He said it seems like the latest letter has managed to gather more attention.

“That was one of the key parts of the letter – ‘Hey, we haven’t heard anything from you, can you please get back to us?’. I think there was a reaction to the letters, but not a direct response… I think the reaction was somebody realizing ‘Oh, this doesn’t look good, it looks like we aren’t doing our job, let’s go and start telling people we’re about to release a report,’ which is what they’ve done.”

In a statement last week, a spokesperson with Empire State Development said the report is expected to be released ‘very shortly,’ but as of Monday, it had yet to be released.

According to the governor’s initial press release in 2019, the task force would ‘develop potential solutions and policies to address the lack of cell service in rural and remote parts of upstate New York’.

State funding was spent on a detailed map of the coverage area, but they have yet to be released publicly.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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