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Cell service comes to Grace Cottage Hospital

TOWNSHEND—A Massachusetts company is boosting cellular service at Vermont’s smallest hospital.

CoverageCo has installed equipment that allows for cellphone use at the hospital or in the vicinity — an area that has had little to no service until now.

There are limitations: For instance, AT&T customers can’t access the new system. But a company administrator said the Grace Cottage installation fulfills the Cambridge-based company’s mission to reach underserved areas.

“In general, on most of the campus, you can’t get any coverage,” said Vanu Bose, CoverageCo’s chief executive officer. “And that’s frankly the only kind of place we build.”

Rather than building towers and antennas like traditional carriers, CoverageCo installs what it calls “radios” — small cellular devices — on poles or buildings. Phone users can then connect via CoverageCo’s roaming agreements with cell-service providers.

Bose said the company currently has deals with 10 carriers, including T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon and US Cellular.

There is no such agreement with AT&T. Also, users of “mobile virtual network operators” like TracFone and Republic can’t use CoverageCo equipment.

The company’s radios also have a relatively short range, covering a radius of about a half-mile.

For Grace Cottage, however, it’s a big change. Bose said the hospital’s equipment was activated at the end of May and has supported 544 calls since then.

In a statement accompanying the CoverageCo announcement, Grace Cottage Chief Executive Officer Roger Allbee said, “for too long, Grace Cottage has had the dubious distinction of being, to my knowledge, the only hospital in Vermont without any cell reception.”

“But today, thanks to a partnership with CoverageCo, our patients can easily communicate with families and loved ones,” Allbee said.

It’s not CoverageCo’s first foray into the area. In 2014, the company announced expansion into the Route 30 corridor in Jamaica, Townshend, Newfane, and West Dummerston.

Boosted by state and federal funding, CoverageCo in 2012 launched a pilot project that has grown to 145 radios covering 370 square miles. Last year, the company said, CoverageCo radios enabled nearly 1,000 calls to 911.

Bose said CoverageCo is making “definitive progress” on the problem of spotty cell coverage in Vermont. And he said the company’s work will continue.

“We are in the process of raising additional funds for expansion,” he said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #412 (Wednesday, June 14, 2017).

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