April 6, 2014

Editorial: Northway phones still essential

This will come as a surprise to many people: The call-box phones that line the Northway have been working just fine for the past eight years.

Those phones — set up on poles every couple of miles in the more secluded span and marked by “AID” signs — became a point of contention years ago after word got out that they weren’t working. At the time, cellphone service along Interstate 87 was almost nonexistent. Two terrible car accidents where people couldn’t reach help had brought the communication gap to everyone’s attention.

That started an initiative to encourage better cellphone coverage along the Northway, with its long sections where you see nothing but trees and rocks alongside the road.

Over the intervening years, thanks to cooperation by state and local governments and phone companies, cell coverage is available over most of the Northway.

But gaps remain. Our editor happened to have both a Verizon and an AT&T phone in the car on a ride back from Albany recently, and she tracked the coverage.

For three miles starting at mile marker 110, just south of Exit 31 near Elizabethtown, AT&T had service, but Verizon had no service.

Service returned for both right around mile marker 115 at Elizabethtown.

No service existed for AT&T from about mile marker 119 to 127 and again from 132 to 135. Verizon had service in that stretch.

At the “Text Stop” between Elizabethtown and Lewis, AT&T had no service; Verizon had full power.

So those call phones are definitely still needed — for cellphone gaps, for people who have no cellphones and even for snowmobilers who ride trails alongside the highway.

Wells Communications took over the 64 call boxes along Interstate 87 in 2006, and Wells Vice President Mike Milanese says the company ensures, with 24/7 maintenance, that they are reliable.

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