WASHINGTON COUNTY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Cell phone service in rural Upstate New York communities has been a longstanding issue, made even more critical following the death of Kaylin Gillis, who was shot as she and her friends were leaving a Hebron driveway. Poor signal made it impossible for her friends to call 911 immediately.
Back in 2015, Washington County commissioned a study of its poor cell service, but not long after that, New York’s “Broadband For All” program was rolled out, and internet connection took precedence.
“All of that funding comes from the federal government, that then devolves onto the states and largely through the FCC,” explained Laura Oswald, Washington County Director of Economic Development, “so do you handle both at once? Do you focus on one or the other? Again, because the money was there, the focus was on the internet. That does not in any way lessen the importance or the understanding that we need to do a better job at getting cell coverage.”
The county also continues to work on better broadband. Meanwhile, the Lake Champlain-Lake George Regional Planning Commission recently applied for a grant to update cell coverage maps in Washington and Warren counties to figure out where new towers should go.
“There are a lot of technology pieces that have to work together to get adequate coverage to both make a phone call, and to upload and download data via the internet,” Oswald said, “and to be sitting in your driveway or driving down a road. It all needs to be interconnected, and it all needs to be available no matter where you are.”
90 miles west, in Hamilton County, the issue of rural cell service is on the table there, too. Bill Farber from the Board of Supervisors said a 2019 New York State report, with recommendations for expanding service in the Adirondacks and Catskills, was a start.
“We can’t be talking about this at the next tragedy and pointing our fingers at each other. We have to bring people together in a way that seeks solutions and figures out how this actually is going to work,” Farber said. “We’ve got framework in the cellular task force report, but it’s not an implementation strategy, and we need to take that next step. We’re all talking about it in the context of why we need to take that next step right here and now.”
The case surrounding Kaylin Gillis shining light on the lack of cell service in rural towns. The 20-year-old was shot after she and her friends pulled up in the wrong driveway in Hebron. Law enforcement said the group struggled to connect with GPS, leading them to Kevin Monahan’s driveway. To make matters worse, her friends had to drive 5 miles so they could get decent enough cell service to call 911.
As the push for better cell coverage continues in the wake of her death, Monahan, charged with second degree murder, is being held in jail without bail.
Monahan will be back in court May 4th when a judge will hear a petition from his lawyer on an application for him to be released from jail.