UPDATE In the aftermath of the shooting death in Hebron, NY, officials are revisiting a 2021 recommendation for rural broadband expansion. As the Times Union notes, the cause of Kaylin Gillis’ death was not bad cell phone service, but the incident may have played out differently if the travelers could have digitally accessed directions, or emergency assistance.
The two-year-old report from Upstate Cellular Coverage Task Force contains 74 pages of suggestions for improving connectivity in Washington County. Although AT&T does operate in their area, additional providers, like Verizon, and more extensive broadband outreach would be a boon. The report suggests the need for coordination between local, state, and federal agencies.
“Everybody has said for years there needs to be an efficient public-private partnership,” commented State Sen. Jake Ashby. “Clearly, that hasn’t happened and it’s time to stop making excuses and get this done.”
There are programs in place, like New York’s ConnectALL broadband program, but even with directed financial resources, it is estimated that blanketing the Adirondack region with connectivity could cost $610 million. According to the Times Union, state lawmakers are on the verge of releasing up to $227 billion in broadband funding, though specific applications for that funding were not discussed. The governor’s office added that a $1 billion federal investment in broadband services to “alleviate cellular coverage challenges in upstate regions” was also on the table.
Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) weighed in with his concerns, stating he was at “wit’s end with a cell phone dead zone that seemingly can’t get fixed.” He expressed his intention to “turn up the volume a little on Verizon in hopes that they get the message, hear us now, and fix this problem.”
As the Times Union notes, there is work to be done to get needed coverage in rural New York. Changing personnel on the NY political landscape may have drawn attention away from the recommendation in the 2021 report, but the tragic event in Hebron now has state officials focused on ensuring that broadband is available throughout even the most remote parts of the state.