Harkins, Merski encouraged by turnout at town hall addressing cell issues

Providers attending expressed commitment to resolve lakeshore reception problems

ERIE, May 6 – State Reps. Bob Merski and Pat Harkins said they were heartened that yesterday’s live town hall to address cell service problems on Presque Isle, the lake, and the surrounding shore drew a strong crowd and participation by area cell service providers.

The lawmakers, both D-Erie, said the event was an opportunity to bring those companies together with community members so providers could understand the urgency of the problem.

“This is an issue that has been coming up year after year with service along the lakeshore,” Merski said. “Calls are constantly being dropped, and for folks who live close to water and below the bluff, sometimes there is no service at all. It’s posing a safety issue, especially as more and more people have cut the cord on their land lines.  

“We heard from a Harborcreek Township woman who tried to call 911 when her husband needed emergency medical help, and the call kept dropping. Thankfully, she was able to get help, but the incident showed us how critical it is to get stronger service and why we need to address this now. People’s lives can be quite literally on the line.

“It’s also a cost issue. The Harborcreek resident ended up having to sign up for a land line. We shouldn’t force people to undergo extra expenses. Companies should be providing this cell service as part of their obligation under the PUC.”

Harkins said the issue is affecting small businesses and visitors to Presque Isle – which receives a million visitors each year – as well as boaters on the lake.

“A lot of people came out – from the S.O.N.S. of Lake Erie to charter captains to mom-and-pop business owners to residents – all discussing how this is impacting their businesses and their lives,” Harkins said. “As soon as folks come down Presque Isle Drive, there is no cell coverage for a good half mile. The problem is also affecting boaters. Someone will be injured and need transport, and they will have trouble reaching 911 because of the lack of coverage.”

The lawmakers saw attendance and participation by cell phone representatives as a hopeful sign.

“I am confident that with the cell phone company representatives there, they will address this issue,” Merski said. “They are committed to it, and I take them at their word.”