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Officials: Albany County Cellular System Needs A Fix

A cell tower near the NYS Thruway in uptown Albany.
WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
A cell tower near the NYS Thruway in uptown Albany.

Officials say cellular telephone network infrastructure that supports 911 emergency calls is inadequate in some parts of Albany County.

Lawmakers and emergency responders in Albany County would like to see improvements made to cellular service. They say there are several areas including what they call a "Bermuda Triangle" within the suburb of Colonie where calls routinely fail, if they can be placed at all.  Sheriff Craig Apple says the connection issues in Colonie are "horrible."   "So, what we're gonna do is we're reaching out in partnership with the legislature, to talk with some of the providers in the area, which there are a multitude of them, to see what we can do to enhance the connectivity. They obviously know there's an issue, because if you call and you complain, they're quick to send you a booster. I actually have a booster in my office down in the city of Albany because of constant issues where we're having where we can't connect."

Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

Apple says the push is an outgrowth of the county's improvements connecting police, fire, EMS and CDTA buses. He adds residents deserve to have reliable cellular service.

Officials also cited Slingerlands, Bethlehem, Watervliet and Cohoes as areas experiencing service interruptions. Albany County Legislature Chair Andrew Joyce says leader want Apple to hold hearings around the county to determine the severity of the situation. Colonie Police Chief Jonathan Teale:   "Here in Colonie we get over 30,000 911 calls a year. And the last few years, sticking with my friends of the county, the ratio has shifted. It used to be about 50 percent of those calls were from landlines and 50 percent were cell. Now we're looking at probably closer to 80 or 90 percent cell and 10 or 20 percent landline calls. So having that connection, a reliable connection, is critical for the public to get help."

Joyce:   "We don't wanna be that individual that dials 911 when we need it and have that call drop. It's 2018. There's so much, you know, resources and infrastructure we can bring to bear to solve the issue. Let's put our heads together and fix it, before it's too late."

Joyce says the initial effort involves fact-finding. He doesn't rule out legislation as a remedy if cell carriers fail to come up with a fix.   "We're looking for recommendations. And if it requires legislation or a budget amendment or something to do with funding, you know we'll look at it when we get there. Right now we're kind of at the beginning stages."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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