April 29, 2009

Northway cell gap closed

AT&T joins network with tower on line in Lewis


LAKE PLACID — Another wireless telephone giant is expanding North Country coverage with an eye on the Adirondack Park.

The first new AT&T; cell-phone tower, reaching a previously dark stretch of Adirondack Northway, went on line in Lewis recently.

AT&T; gained an undisclosed number of existing towers when it acquired former Unicel infrastructure in northern New York as part of an asset swap with Verizon Wireless, a move advised by the Federal Communications Commission.

Phase 1 of expansion involves ensuring former Rural Cellular/Unicel equipment makes a seamless switch to AT&T; network systems, company officials said.

"We're very excited to be in the territory and start working with local officials," said Jay Summerson, AT&T; New York's vice president for external affairs.

"It all comes back to the customers' experience and what we can provide so they can reach their potential."

Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) worked with local leaders over the past two years, creating an inventory of tall structures throughout Adirondack towns and villages, hoping cell-phone companies would be encouraged to invest in the rural mountain region.

Little lauded the advance of AT&T; as a sign of continued progress.

Verizon Wireless has already sited eight new towers in its network to improve cell service on Interstate 87 and Routes 73 and 86.

"Public safety continues to improve with each new tower activation," Little said. "I'm very pleased with the progress we are seeing and am thankful for AT&T;'s efforts.

"I traveled the Northway on Thursday and again Saturday and thought about the improved coverage and how much better all travelers are in being able to make a call in the event of an emergency."

Adding telecommunications towers in the Adirondack Park is a blend of technological engineering and landscape architecture.

Regulated by environmental protection policy, cell towers must be made "substantially invisible" — blended into the wooded landscape or co-located on existing tall structures.

"We agree that it requires a delicate balance in working with communities in a sensitive area," Summerson said.

"We see the benefits as twofold. First, the emergency-services capability you are able to provide through wireless connectivity is paramount in rural areas.

"Second, going forward, by providing rural services, we are bringing the benefits of wireless connectivity to residents and businesses who can then benefit from economic growth in wireless broadband."

AT&T; uses a wireless "3G" technology that also carries broadband access.

"Different technologies can provide broadband through wireless 3G networks, which is what we are committed to providing across our footprint," said AT&T; spokeswoman Kate MacKinnon.

According to Adirondack Park Agency records, five permits have been issued along the I-87 corridor for Unicel service in the past three years for cell-phone infrastructure in the towns of AuSable, Schroon, Westport, Lewis and Chesterfield.

MacKinnon said the AT&T; network has long shared a roaming signal from Unicel towers in the region and is "fully committed" to advancing technology in rural areas.

"We see increasing broadband access to rural regions as an important part of rebuilding the economy and increasing potential for new jobs."

The company plans to formally introduce its Adirondack access push with a mobile retail stop in Lake Placid in June.

E-mail Kim Smith Dedam at: