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Schumer: New Yorkers Can Help Identify Cellphone Dead Zones

Schumer
WAMC composite photo by Dave Lucas
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U.S. Senator Charles Schumer is asking the public to help identify cellphone dead zones around New York in an effort to see whether the coverage maps promoted by wireless companies are bogus.

The Democrat announced Wednesday that cellphone carriers claim to provide good wireless coverage through many upstate areas when in fact the service is spotty or non-existent.

To help the FCC find out whether the carriers are making deceptive claims about their service, Schumer says his office has created a website to collect information on the locations of dead zones around the state.

"We need to make sure that someone who asks 'can you hear me now?' can trust there will be a crystal-clear 'yes' on the other end of the line. But we need New Yorkers to log onto our website and help us locate where the problems are."

The website's address is schumer.senate.gov/wirelessdeadzone.  The link below is an excerpt from Senator Schumer's press conference held via telephone on Wednesday October 21st.

22-SenatorSchumer-Cellular.mp3

Here's the full press release issued by Senator Schumer's office:

On a conference call with reporters, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced his office will be conducting a statewide crowdsourcing campaign to identify and locate dead zones in Upstate New York. Schumer said the information will be used to help crack down on wireless carriers who are falsely listing their service on coverage maps throughout New York State. Schumer has been pushing the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to investigate if network providers are fairly and accurately advertising wireless coverage so that consumers can make informed choices. Schumer said that the information on dead zones provided by New York residents will enable the FCC to pinpoint the exact locations where wireless companies are false reporting good coverage, and then crack down on the lack of accuracy in those coverage maps.

“These false coverage maps may be good for business, but not for consumers living in those areas, who decide on which wireless carrier to use based on whether or not they provide good service in their area,” said Schumer. “Consumers need accurate information in order to make informed decisions in the marketplace, but these deceptive coverage maps may obscure the truth and put consumers at a major disadvantage. That is why I am launching a statewide crowdsourcing campaign that will allow customers to report the dead zones they have experienced first-hand across Upstate New York which will provide the evidence necessary for the FCC to crack down on inaccurate coverage maps.”

In recent years, many New York consumers have reported increasing problems with poor network performance, particularly in more rural areas where there are fewer cellular towers and less wireless infrastructure. Many residents in Upstate New York have reported receiving poor cell phone coverage, despite wireless companies’ advertisements. For example, according to a recent Poughkeepsie Journal report, the Hudson Valley ranked amongst the worst of 125 populous U.S. metro areas surveyed for mobile network performance. Schumer said there are many areas throughout Upstate New York that also experience poor quality when it comes to cell phone network speed, network reliability, data performance, call performance and text performance. Despite these reports of poor service in several areas, Schumer revealed that wireless carriers are labeling regions on coverage maps as having good coverage. In reality, many of these areas are dead zones. Schumer said that at best, inaccurate coverage information is inconvenient and expensive for customers; at its worst, it could pose a serious threat to safety. Schumer explained that wireless carriers often use coverage maps to show that their company offers superior coverage compared to competitors. However, customers rely on these coverage maps advertised by the carriers to make their purchasing decisions.

Therefore, Schumer is asking New Yorkers to report to his office the specific locations of dead zones in their area and which wireless carrier they use. The data is necessary to locate which areas are inaccurately advertised as areas with good coverage. New Yorkers who wish to participate in this crowdsourcing effort can submit their local cell phone dead zones via the Senator’s website, at Schumer.Senate.Gov/WirelessDeadzone. New Yorkers will be able to submit this dead zone information directly to the Senator's Office, and results will be sent directly to the FCC. The deadline to submit dead zone information will be on November 11th at 6:00 pm EST.

Schumer argued that poor wireless service, and especially inaccurate coverage maps that hide dead zones, hurt consumers and businesses in Upstate New York in several ways. It is unfair to consumers who do their research before making a decision regarding cell phone carriers and are left surprised following the purchase when they realize many areas in Upstate New York are complete dead zones. In addition, Schumer said many Upstate shop owners and local businesses report experiencing dropped calls when using wireless devices to connect with customers, impacting their ability to conduct their business. Finally, the lack of wireless coverage throughout areas across Upstate New York could be a threat to public safety. Schumer cited one instance in Sullivan County, in which 54 school-aged children were injured when a school bus crashed at the bottom of Ferndale-Loomis Road in Liberty in 2010. Schumer said this accident proved particularly dangerous when it was discovered there was little to no cell phone service to reach first responders.

Wireless services also support global positioning system (GPS) products that are essential to residents and tourists alike. Schumer said the lack of wireless coverage could make tourists reluctant to travel to an area knowing they will not have the ability to use their GPS technology to explore the area or make calls in an emergency situation.

For these reasons, Schumer said quality wireless service must be an essential part of modern U.S. infrastructure, just like water, housing and clean air, and consumers deserve access to information that allows them to make informed decisions about their wireless carriers. Schumer said the FCC needs to better ensure network carriers are advertising accurate coverage maps for convenience, economic development and public safety purposes. Schumer said this crowdsourcing effort will provide the FCC with better information to do just that.

A copy of Schumer’s initial letter to the FCC appears below:

Dear Chairman Wheeler:

Thank you for your dedication to ensuring that all Americans have access to quality telecommunication services. I am writing to you today because I am concerned about the disparity between the wireless coverage that carriers show on coverage maps and the actual access my constituents experience in New York.  I ask that you investigate whether network providers are fairly and accurately advertising wireless coverage so that consumers can make informed choices.  New York consumers have reported increasing problems of poor network performance, in particular lack of service in areas that are advertised as covered.

Americans increasingly rely on wireless technology to communicate and keep in touch with loved ones, peers, and business contacts. With the proliferation of smart phones, these devices have become necessary parts of people's everyday lives.  In addition, wireless services support global positioning system (GPS) products which can be essential to residents and tourists alike. Customers rely on the coverage maps advertised by the carriers to make their purchasing decisions. That is why it is critical that the maps provided in stores and on the carriers’ websites are accurate.

In fact, a recent study released by RootMetrics ranked Hudson Valley, New York in last place of 125 populous U.S. metro areas surveyed for mobile network performance. Despite major network carriers advertising full coverage on their coverage maps in most areas of the Hudson Valley, the study found that the actual service in the area failed in six categories: overall performance, network speed, network reliability, data performance, call performance and text performance. Without accurate coverage maps, consumers in the Hudson Valley and across the nation are forced to go through the onerous and sometimes dangerous experience of dead zones, dropped calls and poor clarity. Now, more than ever before, it is critical ?that the FCC help protect consumers by ensuring that network carriers are providing accurate representations of the wireless service that consumers will receive.

Quality wireless service is ?now an essential part of modern U.S. infrastructure, just like water, housing and clean air, and consumers deserve access to information that allows them to make informed decisions about their wireless carriers. I support the FCC's transparency requirements, and strongly urge the Commission to examine the wireless coverage of Hudson Valley, New York to ensure that network carriers are advertising accurate coverage maps.

Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer

U.S. Senator

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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