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Cuomo announces task force to address cell service in rural areas of upstate New York

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the new Upstate Cellular Coverage Task Force, which will develop potential solutions and policies to address the lack of cell service in rural and remote parts of upstate New York. The task force, which the Governor originally proposed as part of the 2019 State of the State, will be administered by Empire State Development.

“Every New Yorker should be able to access a stable cell connection, yet our upstate regions have struggled for too long to make the connections that are vital to everyday life and commerce,” Governor Cuomo said. “Today we’re leading the way forward by establishing a task force of cellular service experts, elected representatives and environmental advocates who will develop concrete policies and help to ensure service is provided and infrastructure for it is built in a sustainable way.”

“All New Yorkers should have reliable cellular service, and this new task force will work to find solutions to fill existing gaps,” said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. “Residents and businesses in upstate communities and rural areas still face challenges with cell service, and we want to make sure to address those issues once and for all. We are committed to modernizing 21st century infrastructure to expand coverage and strengthen the economy.”

The task force consists of industry experts, community leaders, government officials, environmental representatives, and other key stakeholders and has retained Alvarez & Marsal as an advisor. The first meeting of the task force is today.

The lack of upstate cellular network coverage undermines economic growth, impacts communications and safety, and inhibits adoption of smart municipal infrastructure. In the Adirondack Park Region and other rural upstate areas with large coverage gaps, the issue of cellular deployment has been a major local concern. The Task Force will review existing policies, potential constraints, and available resources and funding sources including federal support, to develop implementable recommendations for enhancing cellular coverage in unserved areas including the Adirondacks and Catskills.

The members of the Upstate Cellular Coverage Task Force are:

  • Barbara Rice, Assistant Secretary for Economic Development, Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
  • Jeffrey Nordhaus, Executive Vice President, Innovation and Broadband, Empire State Development
  • Thomas Congdon, Deputy Commissioner, New York State Public Service Commission
  • William Farber, Chair, Board of Supervisors, Hamilton County
  • Chris Fisher, Advisor and Former President, New York State Wireless Association
  • David Hopkins, Director, E911, Steuben County
  • Jeff Senterman, Executive Director, Catskill Center
  • Dr. Satya Sharma, Executive Director, CeWIT, SUNY Stony Brook
  • Michael Sprague, Director, New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services
  • Rick Weber, Deputy Director, Planning, New York State Adirondack Park Agency
  • Betty Little*, New York State Senator
  • Jen Metzger*, New York State Senator
  • Rachel May*, New York State Senator Senate
  • Aileen M. Gunther*, New York State Assembly Member
  • Billy Jones*, New York State Assembly Member
  • Angelo Santabarbara*, New York State Assembly Member

    * Ex officio member

New York State has made historic investments in infrastructure and broadband availability. In 2015, the Governor launched the $500 million New NY Broadband Program to achieve statewide high-speed Internet access. After full implementation of the program, more than 99 percent of New Yorkers will have access to wired broadband.

Empire State Development Acting Commissioner and President & CEO-designate Eric Gertler said, “Every New Yorker knows the frustration of a dropped call or a lost signal. It’s a particular challenge for rural areas of our state, where mobile access is critical for commerce and communication. The task force’s impressive list of members are committed to ensuring all residents can participate in the digital economy, while addressing relevant environmental concerns about any infrastructure buildout that may be required.”

Assistant Secretary for Economic Development Barbara Rice said, “High-quality cell service is an essential tool for New Yorkers who live in rural and remote parts of the state—and anywhere in New York—to communicate with friends and loved ones, attract business and even do homework. I look forward to representing Governor Cuomo on the Upstate Cellular Coverage Task Force and developing real solutions to deliver this vital service to New Yorkers.”

Jeffrey Nordhaus, Executive Vice President for Innovation and Broadband at Empire State Development said, “The task force will build on the important work done over the last 5 years to bring enhanced broadband coverage to upstate New York by beginning the process of addressing similar gaps in cellular coverage. These gaps, like broadband, present issues for economic development, tourism and public safety, and we look forward to working with the task force to evaluate potential recommendation and solutions.”

Thomas Congdon, Executive Deputy, New York State Department of Public Service, said, “Ensuring a strong and robust cellular network in New York State will help spur economic growth and opportunity. In addition, it will provide the type of reliable communication that we have all come to depend upon.”

Hamilton County Board of Supervisors Chair William Farber said, “New York State has an unprecedented advantage over other states due to the amount of fiber-to-the-home that has been put in place as part of the New NY Broadband Program. The next step is for New Yorkers to have stable access to reliable cell service, and the Upstate Cellular Task Force will thoroughly assess the need for coverage while developing concrete policy recommendations the state can implement to help provide it.”

NYSWA Past President & State and Local Affairs Advisory Chris Fisher said, “On behalf of the New York State Wireless Association, I’m excited to join Governor Cuomo’s taskforce and help develop comprehensive strategies with state and municipal leaders that will stimulate the development of infrastructure needed for the public safety and economic benefits of wireless technology in the Catskill and Adirondack regions.”

Catskill Center Executive Director Jeff Senterman said, “Reliable cellular service is an essential addition to the Catskills that will make life easier for residents and businesses, and I look forward to working with the Upstate Cellular Coverage Task Force to address the need in a sustainable, environmentally-friendly way.”

SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson said, “Governor Cuomo is taking the lead on this critical issue that affects thousands of SUNY students, faculty, and staff who live and work on campuses in the rural regions of this great state. The work of this task force will ensure more consistent cell coverage, which has become essential to living and learning. Improved networks will also safeguard the health and safety of the citizens in these remote areas, while strengthening the economic vitality of these communities.”

Senator Betty Little said, “No region of the state, including the North Country, can afford to be stuck in the 20th Century. People now rely on their cell phones for so many important reasons, including being able to make a life-saving phone call. I applaud the governor for creating this task force and look forward to the discussion and being a part of developing a plan that will close the gaps in service that understandably frustrate so many people living in and visiting our region.”

Senator Jen Metzger said, “Reliable cellular coverage is an economic and public safety necessity, yet significant areas in the rural communities I represent have service that is poor to non-existent. I look forward to working with fellow task force members to develop an actionable plan to close the gaps in service in the Catskills and Mid-Hudson regions so that every community has the communications tools they need to thrive in the 21st century.”

Senator Rachel May said, “Cellular service is an urgent need for businesses, students, emergency responders, and residents in rural areas of my district. If we don’t ensure adequate service, then our communities are at great risk of being left behind economically and socially. I want to thank Governor Cuomo for the chance to serve on the taskforce working on solutions to upstate cell service, and I am looking forward to delivering actionable policy recommendations.”

Assemblywoman Eileen Gunther said, “The Catskills are a chronically underserved area when it comes to access to cellular service. My constituents regularly speak to me about the lack of cell service and spotty coverage throughout the region. I am happy to be a part of this task force and to work to expand cellular coverage to all parts of the 100th district. Cellular service is not a luxury, today it is absolutely a necessity and we must work to make sure that all people have access to this vital public service.”

Assembly Member Billy Jones said, “Cellphone service is no longer a luxury, but a necessity in everyday life. The North Country has been at a distinct disadvantage with large gaps in cellular coverage for far too long, posing a risk to safety and putting our communities at an economic disadvantage. I’m honored to be on the Upstate Cellular Coverage Task Force and am eager to start coming up with solutions to this longstanding problem.”

Assembly Member Angelo Santabarbara said, “In this day and age we depend on our cell phones and mobile devices every day for everything from getting directions to checking in on our loved ones. The truth is, far too many New Yorkers, especially in rural areas, are still without reliable cell coverage, forced to wander in search of service asking ‘can you hear me now?’ Creating a dedicated task force to examine this important issue and work towards finding long term solutions is a step in the right direction. Living in our area of upstate New York shouldn’t mean you’re cut off from communicating with the rest the world or at an economic disadvantage.”

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