Up-Island must wait a little longer for improved wireless service


Can you hear me now? The startup date for a two-town distributed antennae system (DAS) project, expected to provide reliable wireless service to Chilmark and Aquinnah, has been pushed back from January 1 to sometime in March.

Chilmark town administrator Tim Carroll, the point man in an effort to establish a DAS told The Times that AT&T does not expect to purchase the equipment it needs until the first quarter of the new year. As a result, the system turn-on date has been pushed back.

DAS relies on a series of radio access nodes (RAN) connected to small antennas set on telephone poles, or poles erected for that specific purpose, to distribute cellular telephone signals. Although the range is considerably less, the DAS appeals to communities where a high conventional tower is unwelcome but wireless telephone service is poor.

Chilmark and Aquinnah have contracted with American Tower Corporation (ATC) to create a DAS that would eliminate the wireless black holes that exist across Chilmark and Aquinnah. Although AT&T is the only company to sign on, more are expected to follow once the system is up and running.

Mr. Carroll said all the poles are in place and NSTAR is expected to begin stringing the fiber-optic cable that will be the backbone of the DAS system.

The wireless signal would originate from a hub station placed at the Chilmark landfill. The site is prepared and ready. All that is needed is the transmission equipment.

Mr. Carroll said it was thought that the system would be ready by January 1 based on certain tax incentives that benefitted the company. “Hopefully, it will be on by March,” Mr. Carroll said.

Town officials have continually stressed that improving wireless service is not only an issue of convenience but one of public safety.

Aquinnah launched the effort to create a DAS system in December 2005 as a way to bolster the town’s defense against cell towers and lawsuits brought by cell phone companies under the Telecommunication Act of 1996 (TCA), a federal law that limits the obstacles towns may place in the way of wireless communication companies seeking to provide service where there is a lack of coverage. Chilmark and West Tisbury later joined the effort.

But plans for a tri-town agreement were put aside when West Tisbury town officials and residents disagreed about permitting requirements and the extent of the wireless communication benefits the system would provide in a town with existing towers.

West Tisbury pulled out. Chilmark and Aquinnah forged ahead.