Chilmark declares interest in townwide cell system
Chilmark selectmen moved closer Tuesday to providing an improved cell phone system for town residents.
They authorized selectman Frank Fenner, who has been researching the issue, to write to the Crown Castle telecommunications company, indicating the town's interest in pursuing a distributed antenna system, an alternative to cell phone towers. Without committing to the company, the selectmen said the letter would make clear that the town is serious about going ahead with cell phone service.
"Crown Castle is asking for a letter of interest from the town so they can move along and come physically to check the area and put up temporary antennas to see if it is feasible," Mr. Fenner told the board.
The distributed antenna system (DAS) is a new technology that uses fiber optic cables to connect to small antenna nodes installed on poles. The system is especially good for small, highly concentrated areas, and it offers higher signal levels for access to broadband services, such as the Internet, through cell phones.
Aquinnah has also been talking with Crown Castle about the system, Mr. Fenner said. West Tisbury is also considering the system.
Mr. Fenner presented maps from Crown Castle showing where the antennas could be located in the three towns, including eight in Chilmark. The maps showed in red where good cell phone service could be accessed from cars and from homes. The service would be a little less powerful in homes, he said.
It was previously thought that the small antennas could be installed on electric utility poles, but NStar ruled that nothing could be above its wires, Mr. Fenner said. The town would have to buy poles at a cost of $2,500 each to install the antennas. Under the system, the town would rent the antennas to cell phone carriers, who would pay $50 per month per pole.
"We're looking at a neutral posts that would allow many carriers to rent from the company," Mr. Fenner said. The town's investment would be repaid by the fifth year, selectman chairman Parker Riggs estimated.
"It seems like a pretty good deal. I would go along with it. We can also use it for computers," selectman Warren Doty said. "I know the town meeting would approve this, especially as there is a payback," he added.
Moving ahead with the antenna system, Mr. Fenner said, shows, "we're serious about improving the cell phone coverage in Chilmark."
A telecommunications company, such as Crown Castle, would own and install the system, including the underground fiber optic cables. Chilmark and the other towns also have been working with consultant David Maxson, who represents Broadcast Signal Lab, another company that provides such systems.
The Chilmark selectmen did not discuss the cost of the installation. Mr. Maxson told West Tisbury selectmen in a previous meeting that a DAS should be considered a long-term investment. Some of the costs might be funded with grants or by the first tenant on the system. One centralized piece of equipment could handle a 13-mile radius, a large part of the Island.
In other business, the selectmen approved a proposal from the beach committee for a Vineyard Transit Authority bus to provide shuttle service in the summer between the Chilmark Community Center and Lucy Vincent Beach.
Mr. Doty commented that a number of people already walk from Beetlebung Corner to Lucy Vincent Beach, but he expressed some concern that people would clog the Community Center parking lot when functions were being held there.
"We don't want to promote parking at the Community Center," beach committee member Ian Fein said. "It provides an alternative way to get to the beach."
The selectmen approved the proposal, subject to clearing it with the Community Center officials.
The selectmen deferred discussion of a thick packet of implementation guidelines prepared by the housing committee for the Middle Line Road affordable housing project. They set a meeting to discuss, in particular, proposed changes to the guidelines since the housing committee's recent hearing.
The special meeting with the housing committee and the Middle Line implementation committee will be Tuesday, Feb. 13, at 7:30 pm at Chilmark Town Hall.