Sullivan County Democrat
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By Kathy Daley
SULLIVAN COUNTY — December 24, 2010 — Two months ago, residents in the Town of Forestburgh lost their home phone service twice, the first time for five days and the next, for over a week. Verizon explained that construction taking place in Monticello had knocked out a cable.
At the same time, most people in Forestburgh could not communicate using cell phones because their town is full of “dead zones” where cell phones cannot pick up signals.
“Getting cell phone service here is very important,” said Forestburgh Town Supervisor James Galligan. “It’s a safety issue. Route 42 gets a great deal of traffic, and for automobile accidents it’s a necessity to be able to get help.”
Wireless telecommunication assistance is on its way to Forestburgh – and to the Towns of Tusten and Callicoon – in the form of new cell towers.
The first cell site that’s up and running, as of this week, is in Tusten. There, the town and a cell tower construction company paired up to build a tower at the rear of the Highway Department’s property off Route 97. AT&T has mounted its equipment on the structure, which is itself co-owned by the town and the builder, JNS Towers of Central Valley.
“AT&T pays a rental fee,” said Tusten Interim Building Inspector Jocelyn Strumpfler. “The town gets some of that money and JNS gets some.”
In Narrowsburg’s pre-tower days, cell service was spotty at best.
“Our goal was to get more service for residents but also to assist our emergency services,” Strumpfler said. “We’re in a hole here, by the river. We wanted better radio communications for fire and emergency service.”
Some 30 minutes from Narrowsburg, another cell tower will likely loom in the Town of Callicoon. A proposal by New Cingular Wireless PCS, which is a subsidiary of AT&T, would construct a cell tower on Carl Spielman Road in Youngsville. If approved, said Town Supervisor Tom Bose, the tower will rise on land owned by Scott Gaebel and situated somewhat behind the Sullivan West Bus Garage. Bose said the plan will now go before the Zoning Board of Appeals for a variance.
Like Callicoon, the Town of Forestburgh’s Planning Board and Zoning Board are involved in the approval process for a New Cingular Wireless cell tower proposed for Route 42 on property owned by the Forestburgh Fire Department. Residents stand to benefit not only from actually being able to use cell phones in town, but also, perhaps, in lowered taxes.
“The cell tower will be a great source of income for the Fire Department,” noted Forestburgh Town Clerk Joanne Nagoda. “Hopefully, we’ll see a lowering in the money they need to raise each year (by means of taxes).”
Why this sudden AT&T interest in western Sullivan County? AT&T spokesperson Ellen Webner said new “cell sites” are needed not only to increase coverage but also to ratchet up capacity.
“We are deploying better coverage and bringing 3G (third generation) mobile broadband networks to Orange and Sullivan counties,” said Webner, referring to the upgrading of wireless networks.
“There’s been a phenomenal growth in data usage,” she said, due to the extra demands from BlackBerry devices and other Smartphones. These “mobile computers” with, for example, owners using their cell phones to check email, play video games or watch movies, use a tremendous amount of data “juice.”
In the past few years, AT&T has seen wireless data traffic jump by more than 5,000 percent, Webner noted.
Local realtors say decent cellphone service is a must for the county economically and for continued revitalization. David Knudsen of Catskill Buyers Agency said prospective homeowners have been known to turn down a particular house if their cell phones don’t work there.
Knudsen, who posts information on his website about the local cell phone problem, says it’s about time AT&T showed some interest.
“There’s a big difference between AT&T and Verizon in Sullivan County,” Knudsen said. “Verizon has treated the rural market as much more of a key market than AT&T. Plus, all Verizon’s coverage is 3G for the past two years. AT&T is two years behind Verizon.”
Verizon Wireless spokesman John O’Malley said his company has no plans for new cell sites in Sullivan County at this point.
“We turned on a new site in Hurleyville in June that covers Hurleyville, Liberty and Sullivan Community College,” O’Malley said. “Our focus these days is primarily adding capacity to areas where we already have coverage… to stay ahead of (consumer) demand. We continually monitor and optimize our network to make sure it’s working at its best. We ‘tweak’ sites and boost power to improve the way they work.”

Cell trouble no more?
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