Press Releases

Adirondack Council Calls on Cellular Task Force to Respect Park's 'Substantially Invisible' Standard

The Adirondack Council has sent the following letter to the Upstate Cellular Coverage Task Force, which is due to issue recommendations soon on how to accelerate the installation of modern telecommunications in rural areas of New York.  We want the panel to understand that the rules that protect the Adirondack Park's scenic beauty have done nothing to prevent or even inhibit the installation of new equipment. We also want the panel to note that there are alternatives that are both less expensive and less intrusive than taller towers, which we recommend.

November 8, 2019

Upstate Cellular Coverage Task Force
Empire State Development
625 Broadway
Albany, NY 12245

RE: Cellular Tower Development in the Adirondack Park

Dear Members of the Upstate Cellular Coverage Task Force,

Cellular towers in the Adirondack Park have long been guided by the Adirondack Park Agency's (APA) Policy on Agency Review of Proposals for New Telecommunications Towers and Other Tall Structures in the Adirondack Park (Tower Policy). The Park Agency has done an excellent job of ensuring that new towers fit into the surrounding landscape by requiring that all tall structures be "substantially invisible" when viewed from public places, consistent with the Tower Policy. The Upstate Cellular Coverage Task Force's (UCCTF) anticipated recommendations must maintain, not undermine, the efficacy and implementation of this policy. Doing so not only ensures public health and safety is maintained but also provides the appropriate balance in protecting the world-class natural resources that make the Adirondacks internationally famous.

The "substantially invisible" rule dictates that a communication tower, its support facilities and access roads "will not be readily apparent as to size, composition, or color and the structure(s) will, to the maximum extent practicable, blend with the background, vegetation, other structures or other landscape features as seen from all significant potential public viewing points and as documented by simulation and other visual analysis methods." This rule and the policy writ large has been a model for the entire nation and has allowed rapid expansion of cell phone and broadband service while preserving the "natural scenic character and beauty of the Adirondack Park" which is the foundation of the quality of life and economy of the region.

In fact, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)  recently went out of its way to preserve the Adirondack Park Agency's "substantially invisible" policy, rejecting a plan to allow automatic approval for tower height and width expansions without a review. The FCC received a flood of letters in support of New York's right to protect the Adirondack Park's incredible scenic beauty. The FCC also approved expedited installation of small-cell equipment on utility poles and other existing structures. This provided another tool to supplement cell towers by providing coverage along major highways, where towers may not be practical.

The "substantially invisible" policy has caused very little difficulty for cell phone companies. At public forums, industry representatives have reported that the policy has caused no major delays or obstacles to installations. To date, the APA has not rejected a single cell tower installation permit, while approving dozens.

That doesn't mean everyone has coverage - far from it.  Companies have been reluctant to build expensive towers in very small communities, citing too few potential customers to regain their investments. Coverage is missing, but needed, along highways on the Park's interior, where both
sides of the road may be Forest Preserve that is protected from development by the NYS Constitution, or commercial timberland where no one lives.

We have no expectation of blanket coverage in unpopulated forests.

As was noted at the recent Common Ground Alliance (CGA) forum in Lake Placid this summer, all forms of public telecommunications in the North Country are inadequate. While coverage has improved in some locations over the last 20 years, such as along the Northway corridor, the need still exists to map and propose solutions to the Park's current communications gaps. Take-aways from the CGA session on Adirondack Communications Infrastructure (cellular, broadband, emergency) included:

  • While improving in places, the current coverage and infrastructure for cell phones, broadband and emergency communications is inadequate, and in places getting worse.
  • Any Communication Task Force that is created must include representation from the Adirondacks. (We recognize that this was done, and we appreciate it).
  • Fund 100% of the last mile 100 meg broadband coverage in the Adirondack Park.

Broadband internet availability is improving inside the Park, with the high-speed fiber-optic network being developed with assistance from the state. Broadband installations can help extend the range of cell coverage too, by adding voice-over-internet options via high-speed modems and wireless routers. This allows homes and businesses without nearby cell towers to make and receive cell calls via internet connections.

Without the substantially invisible rule, the Adirondacks would likely be pockmarked with tall "Frankepines" - an issue many have fought hard to prevent. Consistent with the Tower Policy, the Adirondack Council continues to advocate that cell towers should always seek to minimize to the greatest extent possible the height and visual impact of the tower and achieve avoidance of visual impacts. To accept clear exceptions to the invisibility standard would mar the Adirondack Park and its treasured scenic qualities.

In addition, given the ever-shrinking footprint of technology, the Council encourages the Task Force to evaluate how modern technology can be incorporated to bring 5G or better small cell technology and units mounted on telephone poles along travel corridors. In addition, new technology may offer other alternatives to minimize tower height. While developing tall towers - well above the tree line - may be appropriate in some portions of the state, it is inappropriate in the Adirondack Park.

Addressing cellular coverage challenges will require creative solutions that respect and protect the unique regulatory, environmental and scenic qualities of the Adirondack Park. A loosening of existing rules for the siting of new towers or expansion of current towers would harm both the scenic beauty and the local economies of the Park.

But the challenges must be addressed if Adirondack Park residents are to have the same access as other New Yorkers to commercial, social and cultural opportunities available via smartphone and internet communications.

So, the state must be prepared to subsidize the expansion and improvement of cell coverage in rural areas, especially in the Adirondack Park. Rather than accept that some communities and major travel corridors are too remote to serve, work with service providers and communities to subsidize basic services and equipment. Again, we urge that this new equipment be as invisible as possible, outside of hamlets and villages, to preserve the park's awe-inspiring scenic beauty.

This beauty attracts more than 12 million annual visitors, generating tax revenue and income across the Park's 12 counties, 92 towns and nine villages. The Park's vast, wild, unspoiled landscapes set it apart from all other destinations. They should be treasured.

In closing, protecting the Adirondack Park's natural resources and accommodating amenities that provide for the safety of our communities and improve our region's unique quality of life are often seen as being at odds. The APA's Tower Policy is an example of where that balance has been successfully achieved. As the UCCTF moves forward, the Task Force must maintain the integrity of the "substantially invisible" rule and ensure that any cellular coverage and tower recommendations for the Adirondack Park are consistent with the Tower Policy.

Thank you for reviewing our comments.

Sincerely,

John F. Sheehan
Director of Communications

cc:  Barbara Rice, Assistant Secretary for Economic Development
Jeffrey Nordhaus, Executive Vice President, Innovation and Broadband, Empire State Development
Thomas Congdon, Deputy Commissioner, New York State Public Service Commission
William Farber, Chair, Board of Supervisors, Hamilton County
Chris Fisher, Advisor and Former President, New York State Wireless Association
David Hopkins, Director, E911, Steuben County
Jeff Senterman, Executive Director, Catskill Center
Dr. Satya Sharma, Executive Director, CeWIT, SUNY Stony Brook
Michael Sprague, Director, New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services
Rick Weber, Deputy Director, Planning, New York State Adirondack Park Agency
Betty Little, New York State Senator
Jen Metzger, New York State Senator
Rachel May, New York State Senator Senate
Aileen M. Gunther, New York State Assembly Member
Billy Jones, New York State Assembly Member
Angelo Santabarbara, New York State Assembly Member


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