Dead zones: More than a decade into the cell phone era, much of Ulster County still has no service

Late last summer my wife demanded we shift cellular carriers. She was working across the river in Dutchess County and getting spotty coverage at best. I was splitting time between Albany and the Ellenville area, with good reception in the former and long stretches of nothing in between my home and the latter.

We live in Catskill where phone reception’s passable on the street but nonexistent in buildings and figured our lives might change for the better with better cellular coverage.

At the time we were with a company that piggybacked on the Sprint system. We’d just given up our Verizon home line when we found its internet provisions getting worse, and two of their repairmen told us it had to do with the system being essentially wireless while still selling itself as wired. In other words, their copper was corroding and there’d be no FIOS fiber optics coming up the Hudson Valley any time soon. Furthermore, our first cell phones had been Verizon, and we’d moved beyond it years earlier when I found its coverage in the Catskills areas I was spending much time in non-existent.


Nevertheless, we decided to check it out again, alongside AT&T, TMobile and the Sprint system we were already on and see what would be best for our lives. There’d been quite a few reports out about how bad cellular coverage was, in general, in the Hudson Valley, which has been noted the nation’s worst for reception, at least in comparison to its size and population. We also knew that Sen. Charles Schumer was about to release a detailed map showing every cell phone dead zone in the state, with the Hudson Valley gaining particular note for having large swathes of uncovered areas.

The first place we turned to for help was RootMetrics, founded in 2008 to be “a trusted source of consumer-focused mobile performance information.” Unfortunately, most of its information is city-centric, based on overall user-friendliness of systems. Nevertheless, what they had on our area was a good start: They showed AT&T having bad and untested areas in the center and northern Catskills, and poor coverage around the Town of Windham and in the Berkshires. Verizon’s bad area stretched into Phoenicia, while its northern Catskills stretches were okay until you got to Oneonta. Sprint was bad all over the Catskills, up into the western part of Woodstock, as well as over almost all of the Berkshires and northern Greene County, and only fair down in the Marbletown area. T-Mobile’s spottiness made the region look like a mosaic, with intermittent good areas, mostly around urban centers.

Looking for more exactitude, we found an AT&T map that differentiated, up to the sides of roads and valleys, between coverage for voice and data services, as well as 3G and 4G phones. Suddenly gaps show up along Routes 212 and 28, where mountains block cellular access. Whole back roads disappear from coverage.

A similar Verizon map was less detailed, using only white and red areas, but showed much of the Woodstock area without any cell coverage, even on a 4G LTE system. Sprint’s coverage, in shades of green, showed lots of “roaming areas,” almost as large as those not covered by anything. T-Mobile had shades of purple and the indication of strong coverage in more populated areas (and a map that identified coverage possibilities at exact addresses, although they were not downloadable), as well as much of Dutchess County and the Ellenville area, but almost no coverage whatsoever in the Catskills, including almost all of Olive and Shandaken and Greene County’s Mountaintop.


Verizon leads the pack

By this point we found ourselves leaning in the direction of AT&T, given our regular perambulating routes. But we still wanted to know about those dead areas that break calls each time you pass through them, like around the old Veteran Pork Store or several locations along the Thruway, including one very close to the Kingston exit.

Schumer’s list, it turns out, built itself from reported dead zones. The Hudson Valley, with 970, led the pack, statewide, by a large margin (597 of those were from Sullivan County!) By carrier, his report showed 687 reported Verizon dead zones. AT&T with 166, Sprint with 55 and T-Mobile with only 22 reported. The interesting part? The fact that many of the overlays where absolutely no service was alive were in our readership area.

By zip code, the biggest areas for dead zones were 12464 (Phoenicia area), 12452 (Lexington and Shandaken), 12477 (Saugerties, and 12458 (West Hurley). And yes, Verizon did worst, excepting AT&T, which had a poor performance in Woodstock.

In the end we did go with AT&T…but soon afterwards had no need for coverage in Dutchess County. And maybe not Ellenville. Turns out those areas we’re in now are less AT&T than Sprint-friendly…but at least our phones are better, which in the long run seems to have been our original problem all along.

Unless we just decide to stay home more. Hey, anything can happen.

There are 6 comments

  1. Suzanne Parker

    Once you pass through the Bearsville intersection on Rt. 212, cell service disappears no matter who your carrier is. For a town that is so contentious about so many things, I’m surprised that no one is screaming for improved cell coverage.

  2. Mike S

    There has been pushback for years around putting cell towers in the Woodstock/Bearsville area. I wouldn’t put all the blame on the carriers alone, at least for that area.

  3. Peter M.

    Mike S. is correct. I had proposed to put cell service into all of western Woodstock back in the early ’90’s, but the town fought me in court for ten years, ultimately choosing for itself a much smaller area around the town center served by the old Kingston Cablevision site in the California Quarry, picked for its ability to receive NY Channel 13 off-air rather than as a town-wide service location. Politics and economics notwithstanding, it’s a shame it never happened. The carriers are, as in all rural areas, hard put to recoup investment in sites that serve places like Mink Hollow or Ostrander Road.
    I couldn’t convince them to try it now. It won’t get any easier with time, either.
    Happy New Year to all!

  4. AB

    I live in the center of Stone Ridge and have almost no coverage on both Sprint and AT&T. It’s frustrating and confusing. Also, what’s with the deAd zone around rt 209 in Hurley right off the traffic circle?!?

  5. DL Polat

    Having just returned from living out of New York State for nearly a decade, I am in shock and awe at how little the Hudson Valley has progressed technologically. It’s extremely sad to see.

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