Can you hear me now?

ANCRAM–Some town residents say they have a backlog of cell phone rollover minutes.

   Why? Because their cell phones don’t work in the southeast corner of Columbia County, so they can’t use up the minutes they have accrued.

   But thanks to the efforts of Ancram’s cell phone committee of one–Bob Roth–that will soon change. Mr. Roth has been working on improving cell phone service locally for about two years and was finally able to make significant progress with help from former Congresswoman, now Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

   Greeley Ford, a network sales support manager with AT&T, came to the May Town Board meeting to assure residents he is working on the problem and Mr. Roth made it happen. But it won’t happen overnight.

   The powers that be at AT&T have already approved 38 sites for the building of cell towers this year, and 50 sites are on the list for site acquisition in 2010.

   According to Mr. Ford, Mr. Roth has provided AT&T with a list of several sites in Ancram, Copake and Taghkanic for consideration next year as cell tower locations. Among them are:

   *Ancram Town Hall

   *The Copake Town Hall and Park Building

   *Copake Highway Garage

   *Taconic Hills School in Craryville

   *The intersection of County Route 27 and Pumpkin Hollow Road in Taghkanic

   *The Hilscher property in Taghkanic.

   Representatives from the Town of Taghkanic–Supervisor Betty Young, Town Clerk Cheryl Rogers and Councilman Tony LaSalvia–and Town of Copake Deputy Supervisor Joe Laporta were all at the meeting to hear the cell tower update, since their communities are in the same boat when it comes to lack of cell service.

   AT&T “is committed to it, there’s no question about it. I’m here because the president of AT&T sent me here,” said Mr. Ford.

   He did not expect to be able to get all the sites acquired next year. “I’m not saying we can’t get a couple of these [site acquisitions] done in a year,” he said. But he added that he believes this is “at least a two-year plan.”

   Including site acquisition, some cell tower projects can cost as much as half a million dollars to complete, he said. And while his company “does not expect to make a lot of money in Columbia County, [it] would like to cover the rent,” Mr. Ford said.

   On average, from concept to activation, cell tower projects take 18 months, he said, noting that the company prefers to do business with municipalities rather than private owners.

   Also speaking at the meeting was Jim Jeffries from Northeast Communications, a company that builds cell towers if the location is good.  

   Describing a cell tower as “vertical real estate,” Mr. Jeffries said his company builds towers, sometimes in as little as six months, to handle multiple carriers, and the town could receive some revenue generated by a cell tower.

   A cell tower would eliminate “areas of drop-out” encountered by emergency medical services, said Mr. Jeffries. He also said his company “brings revenue to the community” but “takes no money out.”

   His company usually builds towers that are a minimum of 145 feet high at a cost of $150,000 to $200,000 each, and makes its money from the leases it sells to carriers to occupy space on the tower for communications service antennas. The more carriers the more money, he said.

   If the town owns the land on which the tower is located, the assessment issue “goes away,” Mr. Jeffries said, explaining that the town could own the tower outright or his company could manage and maintain it.

   “You don’t want to own the tower,” Mr. Ford advised the board. “You just want the money.”

To contact Diane Valden email .        

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