Improved up-Island cell phone service closer
Aquinnah, Chilmark, and West Tisbury will hold a joint public hearing Monday on a proposal by Boston-based American Tower Corp. (ATC) to build a distributed antennae system (DAS) that is expected to greatly improve cellular phone service in the three up-Island towns.
The hearing will bring together the Up-Island Distributed Antenna System Committee, the Aquinnah planning board, the West Tisbury selectmen, the Chilmark wireless communications equipment and facilities plan review committee, and the Chilmark site review committee. The hearing is scheduled for 7 pm at the Chilmark Community Center.
DAS relies on a series of radio access nodes connected to small antennas set on telephone poles, or poles erected for the specific purpose, to distribute cellular telephone signals. Although the range is considerably less than in conventional, tall-tower systems, DAS appeals to communities where a high conventional tower is unwelcome but wireless telephone service is poor.
The project timeline calls for the public hearing, then the conclusion of a contract between ATC and the Up-Island DAS committee, then completion of a system design.
ACT will then seek to lease its system to major wireless service providers. ATC said construction will not begin until it has signed up its first carrier.
Town officials hope to sign a contract by mid-April. Neither town officials nor ATC would speculate last week on a completion date for the project, but ATC's project director, when pressed, said "projects of this scope normally have a median time period of about nine months for completion."
David Pierce, director of DAS solutions for ATC, said in a telephone interview that his company is "currently discussing the opportunity with all the licensed carriers." He confirmed ongoing talks with ATT, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint, the four major cell phone providers on Martha's Vineyard.
"We will attend the meeting and present the plan overview and answer questions," Mr. Pierce said. "We want to include the feedback we get and hope to sign a contract as soon as possible after the meeting."
The proposed three-town agreement with American Tower would provide an up-front one-time payment of as much as $450,000, to be divided equally among the towns, as well as future rental fees of an undetermined amount.
Under terms of the proposed agreement, the towns will also receive 15 percent of rental fees received by American Tower from the first phone service vendor, 20 percent of rental fees from the second vendor and 30 percent of fees for all subsequent vendors. The duration of the contract with American Tower has not been set, but "it will be a long-term arrangement," Chilmark selectman J.B. Riggs Parker, point man for the contract negotiations, said recently.
In a telephone call to The Martha's Vineyard Times yesterday, Mr. Parker said the committee has prepared a brochure paid for by ACT that explains how the system works. He said it is important that people interested in improved wireless communication plan to attend the public hearing.