Less than half of Chappy residents respond to cell-reception survey

Edgartown official endorsed a plan for a temporary wireless tower on Chappy. — File photo by Bill Brine

As part of a continuing wrangle over poor wireless reception on Chappaquiddick and whether a distributed antenna system (DAS) or a cell tower would be the best solution, on August 17 Edgartown selectmen agreed to conduct a survey.

The town sent out 570 surveys in early September. Only 230 property owners have responded, according to an update town information technology (IT) manager Adam Darack provided to town manager Pam Dolby, who read the results to selectmen at their regular Monday-afternoon meeting.

DAS relies on a series of small antennas, often erected on existing utility poles, but has limited range. The other option is a tower, which some say would damage the island’s natural aesthetic.

“Grain and AT&T have both said they would build and install equipment on small-height towers,” Ms. Dolby said, referring to a proposal by Grain Communications Group, the only respondent to an earlier town request for proposals. Small towers are in the 100- to 120-foot-tall range.

“Grain said they would build a stealth pole, most likely disguised as a flagpole.”

Since August, the committee has broken into two subcommittees: one to work on a potential tower and one to work on DAS.

Chappy resident and staunch tower opponent Roger Becker has led the DAS subcommittee, and through contacts at Verizon, is working on a proposal for a functional DAS system on the island. Previously, no wireless carrier was willing to install its equipment on a Chappy DAS plan. This changed when Chappy property owners reached out for assistance through contacts of their own.

“Currently the count is 31 poles at approximately 40 feet in height,” Ms. Dolby said. “Verizon has provided additional coverage maps based upon the increased number of poles; however, since the design is still in progress, a final map will come at the end of the process.”

Mr. Darack added in his report that the deadline for the survey was last week. He said it would be “premature at this point to include an analysis of the data.”

Administrative assistant Kristy Rose said that out of all the surveys sent, only seven were returned in the mail.

“Most people don’t care. They just want coverage,” Ms. Dolby said.

The committee has one more month to research whether a wireless tower or a distributed antenna system (DAS) would better suit the island.