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Unresolved dead zones: Upstate NY cellphone service crisis sparks interest in 2021 report

Despite key recommendations from a 2021 state-commissioned report aimed at eliminating cellphone dead zones in upstate New York, progress has been slow or non-existent. The 74-page “Upstate Cellular Coverage Task Force” report provides suggestions to improve cell service in areas such as Washington County, where a tragic incident involving a young woman, Kaylin Gillis, has reignited interest in implementing the report’s proposals.


The task force report estimates a $610 million cost for public-private partnerships to close major service gaps, mostly in the Adirondack region. While state lawmakers are concluding negotiations on a $227 billion budget that includes substantial investments in broadband, there is no specific allocation for cellphone service expansion.

Officials are attempting to use a $1 billion federal investment in broadband services to alleviate cellular coverage challenges in upstate regions. The report suggests leveraging federal and broadband funding to address cellphone service gaps, including grant opportunities with the private sector.


The majority of recommendations focus on zoning, permitting, and planning issues, which have made it too expensive or cumbersome for cellphone providers to build infrastructure in low-density areas. State officials have eliminated permitting fees for laying fiber in state-owned rights of way, a move intended to expand access to broadband and potentially benefit related cellular service expansions.

Although some progress has been made, such as the deployment of hundreds of additional cell sites, the bulk of the report’s recommendations appear to have been lost during the chaotic transition in state government at the time of its release. State and federal officials emphasize that improvements to cell service will require collaboration between government agencies and private service providers.



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