Limited cellphone service in northern Saratoga County worries officials there

Wednesday, April 9, 2014
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— A full day’s phone outage in northern Saratoga County and southwestern Warren County last weekend shows the need for better cellphone service in the area, Hadley Town Supervisor Arthur “Mo” Wright said.

“Cellphones worked, but land lines didn’t,” he said at a meeting of the county Public Safety Committee on Tuesday in Ballston Spa.

A continuing problem, he said, is that most areas of the small towns around the north end of the Great Sacandaga Lake don’t have cell service, making it a potential safety problem when land lines are out.

There’s an AT&T cell antenna on a public safety communications tower in Lake Luzerne, but other major industry players — like Verizon Wireless or T-Mobile — haven’t been willing to come into the remote towns.

“We’ve been trying,” Wright said. “We’ve put pressure on them in the past.”

In the incident last Friday and Saturday, a work crew accidentally cut a Frontier Communications fiber optic cable, leading to the land line phone outage that affected Corinth, Hadley and Day, as well as the Lake Luzerne area.

Because little cell service was available, the Corinth and Lake Luzerne fire stations were staffed throughout the emergency, and police agencies increased patrols.

The lack of cell service in the rural area is well-known. County officials had hoped to have more service there by now, even though the area’s year-round population is only a few thousand people — a relatively small number of potential customers for the cellphone companies.

Wright argued that the year-round population number is deceptive. “In summer, the Sacandaga Valley is full of tourists,” he said.

A new public safety tower system constructed around the Great Sacandaga Lake that went into operation in 2010 included room on its towers for cellular antennas, at the insistence of local officials. But of three county towers around the lake, the Lake Luzerne tower is the only one that has any commercial users.

Even though the towers are already erected, the communications companies would have to invest about $1 million at each location to install antennas and control equipment, said Galway Supervisor Paul Lent, a former cellular industry consultant.

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