Can you Hear me Now? Cell Service in Rural Pennsylvania

Photo Credit: Reposted from JEFFREY ALDERTON jlalderton@times-news.com 7.21.18 Tribune Democrat

Photo Credit: Reposted from JEFFREY ALDERTON jlalderton@times-news.com 7.21.18 Tribune Democrat

 

Cell phone service has become a vital, and often available, necessity in the United States. Occasionally, there may be a “dead-zone” but a few quick steps in a new direction and reception is normally found. However, that is not always the case in many rural communities. Looking in Pennsylvania alone, the Federal Communications Commission reported that 800,000 residents of Western PA (about 6% of the population) do have access to reliable service[1]. Apart from being inconvenient to residents, this problem has proven disastrous for first responders.

One example of this issue focuses on a small community in Bedford County called Hyndman. On December 29, 2017, four tanker cars carrying hazardous materials derailed leading to the second town evacuation in 2017 alone. Communication was little to none on the day of the derailment because Hyndman (population 910) and surrounding areas do not have cell service for miles.[2]

Director of the Bedford County Planning Commission Donald Schwartz said to local news station WJAC “First is the issue of safety, as we found out recently that lack of cell service can be truly a hazard to health and safety. There are large parts of Bedford County that have no cell service.” [3]

Not only does lack of technology directly affect physical health and safety, this poses a problem to population retention and economic growth. Without service to rural areas, there is a loss of professionals and business to boost the economy, leading to lack of essential services.

Seeing a problem and a desperate need for a solution, local officials took action. Partnering with AT&T’s rural technology platform, FirstNet (First Responder Network Authority), Hyndman, PA and surrounding Bedford County areas will now have the technology needed to connect the critical information they need. Every day. In every emergency.[4]

With an expected start date in the latter half of 2019, this service will cover a 2 mile radius with a plan of expansion. “AT&T/FirstNet will advance our 911 services as a starting point, with the expected potential of coverage for all residents,” says Bedford County Commissioner Josh Lang. [5]

New broadband capabilities could have long standing positive impacts on not only health care for first responders, but new telehealth options in the community. One of the main barriers to tele-mental health in the United States is infrastructure and technical support. With inconsistent service and limited connectivity, there is zero chance of providing services in rural America. Commissioner Lang went on to say that the point is to increase communication with one another and with the larger population as a whole. [6]

Now in the beginning stages, the Hyndman Cell Tower Project could set a standard for other projects of the same type. As part of the AT&T partnership, Bedford County set up a Broadband regional taskforce to continue pushing for technological availability for residents. This taskforce is now being looked at as a potential state model for other areas in need.

“Bringing a cell site to this area is exactly what the community and public officials have asked for, and I’m pleased that the FirstNet Authority and AT&T are upholding their promise to fill in rural coverage gaps…,” said U.S. Senator Bob Casey.[7]

As a new year approaches, Bedford County residents can feel more secure that they will be able to reach help. As Commissioner Lang said, “It is a great day for the Hyndman community.” [8]

 

[1] https://whyy.org/articles/rural-pa-demands-broadband-access-providers-cite-logistical-difficulties/

[2] https://www.tribdem.com/news/reliable-cell-service-bound-for-hyndman/article_625706df-6da9-57e6-9f32-4411a760f332.html

[3] https://wjactv.com/news/local/hyndman-train-derailment-sheds-light-on-lack-of-cell-service

[4] http://about.att.com/story/att_expands_rural_coverage_of_firstnet.html

[5] Personal Interview. Commissioner Lang and Kelsey Thayer.

[6] Interview. Lang, Thayer.

[7] http://www.altoonamirror.com/news/local-news/2018/07/att-to-build-hyndman-cell-site/

[8] http://www.times-news.com/news/local_news/reliable-cell-service-bound-for-hyndman/article_0887c963-961e-556e-b79b-fc1b6dbf442d.html

View Blog »