Cuomo outlined cell service proposal in State of the State address

ALBANY — In 2015, the state made it a priority to expand broadband internet, trying to make sure rural residents all over the state had a fighting chance to get online at home, work and school.


While that project is still ongoing, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s sights are now on cell service — another pillar of mobile connectivity that sometimes falters in the most remote areas.


Cuomo outlined the cell service proposal Wednesday in his State of the State address.


"Many areas in the state lack adequate cellular service coverage," Cuomo said. "Reliable cellular service is critical in order to have access to information, public safety and economic growth."


Those who can’t get broadband internet to their homes may also struggle with low cell connectivity, which is a double whammy for those who work from home or homeschool.


Others without broadband use their cell lines to support mobile hotspots, which can power internet usage from computers or other connected devices.


Cuomo’s new plan includes appointing a project director from Empire State Development, the state’s economic development hub, who will begin by focusing on 1,950 miles of major roadways across the state that fall through the cracks of reliable cell service.


These roads include interstates, federal and state highways and major connectors in heavy tourist areas.


A survey conducted in 2016 by Sen. Charles Schumer’s staff found over 4,000 “dead zones” across the state.


Schumer admonished the state’s largest service providers, including Verizon and AT&T, about the gaps in their service, saying they have the responsibility to address them.


"Like it or not, we’re tied at the hip to our cell phones. But what good are cell phones if we don’t have good service?" said Schumer at the time.


In low service areas, the state will look to facilitate the launch of private cellular projects through “batch permitting,” or approving multiple projects under a single application.


The government will also establish “shot clocks” — essentially shorter timelines — on smaller cell service projects on state land, rights of way and high priority corridors.


Lastly, Cuomo said the state will look to advance legislation that will allow the installation of small cell infrastructure on municipal infrastructure.


Small cells, or boxes of radio equipment no bigger than a pizza box or a backpack that are typically mounted on buildings, utility poles or other structures, will facilitate the expansion of 5G cell technology, which is the next generation of cell coverage.