January 19, 2010

EDITORIAL: Progress on cell coverage

The Adirondack Park Agency and cell companies, especially Verizon, deserve credit for the progress that has been made in cell coverage along the Adirondack Northway over the past couple of years.

Spurred by two tragic accidents where help was out of reach for lack of cell-phone signal, New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer got environmental, business and legislative leaders to agree to work toward opening the corridor. The state even set aside $1 million as incentive to companies that might be reluctant to spend money bringing service to a rural area with little payoff besides being able to say they have a bigger network.

Turns out the money never was used. Verizon, along with some other providers, started investing in the idea, mostly because of signals that the APA would be interested in seeing coverage established. Now, cell coverage is available all along the ride from Albany to Champlain except for a short stretch from a bit south of Exit 30 until Exit 31, roughly from northern edge of North Hudson to Elizabethtown.

The APA has been working to fit the projects into the landscape as long as the towers are co-located on existing structures or are "substantially invisible," a rule that has led to somewhat silly but useful towers "disguised" as fake pine trees.

With a big "good job" to all the progress, we encourage the APA and providers to now look off the Northway to the communities around the North Country that still lack coverage. A newly established tower in Paul Smiths, for example, brought cell coverage to the campus but little beyond that. Many gaps still exist around the area, including along route 30 and 86, key transportation links to Malone and points west. It's a public-safety issue in those communities, and it's also a "modern world" issue. Cell phones are a necessity now; they are so ingrained in culture that we rely on being able to have instant contact with everyone: family, schools, workplace, emergency responders.

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