2018-03-22 / News

Town to study north end cellular site

BY TIM RIEL

The town councilors are streamlining efforts to improve the “legendary poor service” that has stymied residents living north of the windmill.

“A north end cell tower is probably our best shot at improving Internet service,” said Mike Glier, director of information technology in town.

The proposal was unveiled during Town Administrator Andy Nota’s presentation on his proposed $996,200 capital improvement plan for the upcoming fiscal year. That measure included an $18,000 request for engineering studies to locate an ideal site for the tower.

“It’s also about public safety,” Glier said. “People are disconnecting landlines. They need a 911 cell connection. Our existing coverage from the Howland towers goes just a little bit past Zeke’s creek.”

The towers on Howland Avenue are owned by the town, which allows Nota to negotiate leases with service providers that want to rent space at the top. According to Glier, this proposal would mimic that model.

“It’s steel, concrete and no moving parts,” he said. “We do those things the best. I’m not talking about getting into the cellular business with electronic equipment. It is strictly a site to build a tower.”

If approved by voters, Nota’s $18,000 request would become available when the 2018-19 fiscal year begins July 1.

Councilman Blake Dickinson, however, said the town should not delay. “You’ll get wholesale support for being very aggressive about this,” he said.

Nota said this measure is surfacing because there is a potential site, although the outlay will allow the town to study all public property in the north end. Moreover, he has been trying to keep this quiet because property owners could partner with a service provider to build a tower on private land.

“That’s what we’re trying to stay out in front of,” he said. “We’re trying to manage the information because there is exposure on this topic.”

Dickinson asked if local zoning could prevent private property owners from constructing a cellular tower on their land, but Glier said the U.S. Supreme Court has sided with the Federal Communications Commission, deciding that the agency has authority regarding this type of zoning.

“Updates to the Communications Act makes it almost impossible for a municipality to block zoning for a cellular tower location site,” he said.

Why not let the service providers build a tower, Dickinson asked, instead of making it a town project?

“When a carrier builds a site, the others are excluded,” Glier responded. “They don’t let the other guys use it.”

For example, if Verizon constructed a tower on private property, the company would not be mandated to allow an AT&T antenna on it.

With Dickinson’s suggestion, Nota said he could bypass the capital request and get the ball rolling immediately.

“We clearly have the ability to accelerate that work,” Nota said.

“I’d be happy to accelerate this,” Councilwoman Mary Meagher said. “People are really interested in improving their service.”

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