CATSKILL — Lack of cell service along 200 miles of roads in Greene County has been a source of frustration for residents in the county, and a new state report on the matter did not provide an actionable solution to the problem, Deputy County Administrator Warren Hart told the Greene County Legislature on Monday.
In 2019 the state established the New York Upstate Cellular Coverage Task Force to come up with recommendations for boosting cell coverage in unserved regions of upstate New York, including Greene County.
Three consultants were hired by the state to map and measure cellular coverage, evaluate regulatory policy tied to broadband and the group estimated the costs of expanding coverage in underserved areas.
Two years later the report was released on Oct. 1 and the task force recommended that in order to achieve the goal of full cell service coverage in the state that private sector investment had to be maximized, the regulatory process had to be streamlined and the state had to consider giving out grants for the construction of new cellular infrastructure.
During the Legislature’s Economic Development and Tourism Committee meeting on Nov. 15, Hart provided the legislature with an update on the county’s broadband problem.
“The report really missed the mark,” Hart told the legislature. “It took almost two years to recommend what we already know and it was really short on any real, meaningful concrete solutions.”
Hart added that the state report did provide a detailed map on the cell service dead spots in Greene.
The map shows bright red lines indicating no reliable cell coverage from any carrier along swaths of State Routes 23, 23A and 42.
“There is a purpose for a report, but the lessons to be learned in the New York Broadband Program could really just have been applied,” Hart said. “Everything that’s in here is pretty much what everyone knew already. In my opinion, they should have focused right on a solution-based approach and not just looked at the problem. The problems that we have statewide, but in particular in Greene County, about the use of state right of ways and the excessive permits and the delays that are making challenges for our internet providers. That really should have been addressed in here with concrete solutions.”
Greene County Legislator William Lawrence, R-Cairo, asked Hart if the followup to the report was being left up to the county.
“We’ve taken a very proactive, unique approach to addressing broadband in Greene County, pretty much unlike the other communities,” Hart said. “We’ve created a public, private partnership with our broadband consortium, and we’re really trying to, as a county, solve the issue in partnership with our providers. In my opinion, that is the approach. It’s just another ‘Hunger Games.” The state comes up with a program and individual providers have to compete for those funds.”
Legislator Patty Handel, R-Durham, noted that she had hoped to form a broadband task force in the legislature before the state began preparing its report.
“What I’m hearing is that if (Legislator) Matt Luvera and I had gotten our way three years ago and done a task force within this Legislature, we would have gotten more information than the state gave us,” she said.
Hart provided an update on the county’s own broadband project, noting that the county convened its broadband consortium last week with all four local cell providers.
“We’ve taken a solution-based approach to work directly with our providers and we’re well ahead of the state,” he said. “The state just launched a new task force on broadband and they’ll be mapping all of the streets that don’t have broadband. So we’re well-positioned to know what our issues are and where our deficiencies are and apply for grants in partnership with our providers.”
Hart, the Director of the Greene County Economic Development, Tourism and Planning office, added that the approximately 200 miles of dead spots in the county represent 1,300 Greene County residents. He noted that it would cost approximately $10-15 million to finish the entire project.
Legislature Chairman Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore, told the legislature that the state report took longer to emerge than anticipated.
“We knew the state was doing this work, but what we didn’t know was what the report would look like at the end of the day,” Linger said during the meeting. “It took a couple of letters from Congress, Senate and Assembly members to the governor to get this report released in October. Because it wasn’t coming out.”
Linger added that he thought it was time for Handel and Luvera to set up a working group in the Legislature to work with Hart and Emergency Services to take the maps created by the state to find a solution to closing the coverage gap.
“I’m still not sure how we get Verizon, AT&T and the bigger companies to come to the table,” he said. “But that’s going to have to be part of the process.”