Not having cell service can be a hassle. Not being able to text or check Facebook or get directions on Google Maps is an inconvenience to the Nth degree.
But when you are trying to call 911 and find you don’t have any bars, it can be a matter of life and death.
The Albany County Legislature is teaming up with Sheriff Craig Apple to do an analysis of the telecommunications infrastructure throughout the county with the objective of making sure if someone needs to call 911 they will have service.
“The infrastructure has not kept up with the technology,” said Legislator Joe O’Brien, D-Colonie. “The use of the cell phone has changed. It is no longer just a phone. We use it with apps, social media, email, texting and all that has affected the infrastructure. Now the towers that were put up in the early 2000s are overwhelmed by this additional activity. As a result, many of our phones have been lost in space.”
The purpose of the study is to identify weak coverage areas, collect and analyze call data, solicit public input and make recommendations on how to make cell coverage better.
Apple will hold public hearings, meet with cellular carriers and their respective regulatory agencies and talk to public and private entities which may have existing cellular infrastructure or technology to identity how to improve and enhance existing cellular service.
“Cellular service in much of Colonie is terrible, with dropped calls and poor reception a threat to public safety,” said Legislator Paul Burgdorf, R-Colonie, “With many residents dropping land lines and relying exclusively on cell phones, we need reliable cell phone service to contact fire, police and emergency medical services.”
The legislators said they had received inquiries from residents, emergency personnel and business owners in their districts of Latham, Loudonville and West Albany about how to improve cell service, especially along Old Niskayuna Road, Albany Shaker Road and Route 9. A map was displayed with an outline of where most cell service issues occur and it is dubbed the Bermuda Triangle — roughly an area between the Northway and Route 155 to the north, Shaker Road to the west and Route 9 to the east where there is a 50 percent chance of completing a call and if it is completed it is gargled and broken up.
The plan is to have the Sheriff’s public outreach document other areas in the county where cell service must be improved. He can conduct the study with his current communications staff and it will not require any additional county resources.
Chairman of the Legislature Andrew Joyce, D-Bethlehem said cell service in his hometown needs improving also.
“To us, this is a huge public safety issue, especially if people are trying to contact 911,” he said. “We are fortunate to have a strong partnership with the sheriff who can bring vital resources to address this issue.”
Apple said the county does have a $20 million state-of-the-art interoperable radio system to connect police, fire and EMS.
“The other part of the puzzle — cell connection — is where our problems lie,” he said. “So we need to figure out how to make that better. We know we have the right systems in place but we have to get the cell providers to be able to enhance their connectivity.”
Local emergency personnel have also raised concerns, stating the Colonie area receives over 30,000 emergency calls each year, half of which are from cell phones.
“It is our responsibility to respond,” said Shaker Road Loudonville Fire Department Chief Patrick O’Connor. “That is our job and that is what we do. Without good cell service we can’t do that.”