It may soon be easier to get a cell phone signal in the North Country.
Verizon Wireless announced Monday that it plans to activate at least 10 new cell sites in the region by the end of 2009, and AT&T and T-Mobile are also working with the state Adirondack Park Agency to add antennas.
"We've always been focused on enhancing our coverage up there, but this year we're stepping up our coverage," said John O'Malley, Verizon spokesman for upstate New York. "The people that live, work and vacation up there are asking for expanded coverage."
O'Malley said he did not know how many of the cell sites would be in the Adirondack Park. He said the 10 sites are a goal, but Verizon is not sure which ones will actually be ready to activate by the end of the year.
"You never know exactly how quickly those sites will be approved and built," he said. "We'll get them all up as quickly as we can."
Out of 13 Verizon cell sites planned for the Adirondack Northway section of Interstate 87, four have been activated. O'Malley said the nine that remain will not necessarily be up and running by the end of the year.
The APA has approximately six applications from Verizon that are being reviewed, some of which were submitted incomplete to get the ball rolling, APA spokesman Keith McKeever said. All six were general permits which are eligible for expedited review, which would be a substantially quicker process than a normal review, McKeever said.
The APA has 15 applications for cell sites overall, and most are from Verizon and T-Mobile, McKeever said.
The agency has also had discussions with AT&T. McKeever said the company is looking to create a comprehensive plan for the area that could include two dozen initial cell sites throughout the Park.
Some of the new Verizon sites will be new cell towers, but some will be co-locations, in which Verizon puts its equipment on an existing structure like another cell tower or a smokestack.
"That's always our first choice," said O'Malley, because it is faster, easier and cheaper than building new towers.
McKeever called co-location a win-win situation since it also has less of an environmental impact.
Though the APA at one point drew criticism for slowing the growth of cell service in the area, McKeever often points out that it has never turned down a cell tower project.
"It's really been an economically driven process," said McKeever. "Now they're really concentrating on getting towers into the Adirondacks, and it's a good thing."
The new Verizon activations will bring the total number of Verizon sites in the North Country to more than 90, with 26 operating within the Adirondack Park.
Verizon activated 14 new cell sites in the North Country in the last year-and-a-half.
"I think this level of investment ... is another example of our work leadership in that area," O'Malley said. "I don't think any other company is making this type of investment in that area or across upstate New York."
O'Malley said 2009 will be the ninth year that Verizon invested more than $100 million in upstate.
Verizon considers upstate to be everything in New York north of Westchester.
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