Chilmark selectmen approve trial Menemsha Wi-Fi

The pilot program would rely on antennas contained within trash barrels spaced around the village.

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This map shows the proposed locations of four TelecomTrash Stations. Selectmen agreed beach-goers would get Wi-Fi.

Chilmark selectmen met Tuesday night with a full house and packed agenda. Selectmen Warren Doty and Bill Rossi welcomed the newest member of the board, James Malkin, who was elected to fill the seat formerly held by Jonathan Mayhew, who did not seek another term.

One of the main orders of business for the newly reconstituted board was a proposal from American Tower, a Boston-based global provider of wireless communication infrastructure that also hosts the town’s distributed antenna system, to provide Wi-Fi utilizing Bigbelly trash cans, described by American Tower as a “public-private partnership that benefits all parties.”

In a letter to selectmen dated April 12, David Fox, ATC director of business development – managed sites, outline the company’s interest “to trial this unique network deployment method that integrates core town functions with telecom infrastructure. By using the TelecomTrash Stations, ATC can offer commercial grade Wi-Fi to beach goers, boaters and the town while being able to provide additional non-telecom benefits to Chilmark. This joint partnership trial could accelerate real commercial deployments by introducing cost savings, revenue sharing opportunities, and subsidized services to municipalities.”

Mr. Fox said the company was prepared to make a $100,000 investment and expected to collect minimal revenue. “This project is solely a proof of concept,” he said. “We selected Menemsha beach for this investment not only because of its unique location, but because of the forward thinking town and the relationships we have been able to develop through our DAS interactions.”

Bigbelly trash cans, now in use in a number of Island towns, operate on solar power to compact trash. The Bigbelly company would essentially modify its trash cans so they operate as Wi-Fi stations. American Tower would provide all of the connectivity and end-to-end service. The town would provide free power and assist with permitting.

The company proposed four locations for its Wi-Fi stations, which have limited coverage: the drive on west dock; the harbormaster’s shack; the finger pier; and the northeast corner of the beach. Ultimately, American Tower wants to sell Wi-Fi access to Menemsha visitors, for example visiting boaters. The Menemsha proposal is billed as a trial project.

“Why do we want to put Wi-Fi on the beach?” Mr. Malkin asked.

Executive secretary Tim Carroll provided the reasoning behind the proposal. No representatives of American Tower were present.

“We want Wi-Fi service for the harbor and the customers because we don’t have telephone service for them down there anymore, they don’t have Internet, so they were looking for something more affordable than their cell phones,” Mr. Carroll said. “One of the packages we were looking at to upgrade to was point-of-sale, which would be on a tablet, but our Wi-Fi doesn’t extend around the harbor to make it work for all the sites. We were experimenting with our own Wi-Fi down there; Marshall [Marshall Carroll, owner of Menemsha Texaco] has an antenna.

“We reserve the right to be able to provide public Wi-Fi until such a time as American Tower, or one of their subtenants, choose to provide it commercially,” Mr. Carroll explained.

Mr. Carroll said that the town had never thought about the beach for Wi-Fi, but that it is in the American Tower model. He also explained that the harbormaster and town receive commercial-grade Wi-Fi. “It will serve the harbor department, and it will also serve the town as our backup off-Island connection,” said Mr. Carroll.

Mr. Carroll reminded selectmen that last week the town lost Comcast service and that “they lost a day’s worth of work.” Mr. Carroll said that if that loss comes in the summertime, that the town would not be able to sell beach stickers and other services: “Having a redundant, off-Island connection at the point-of-sale itself is important. We’re not really making a profit, they’re just helping us with our connectivity plan and operations.”

Mr. Carroll explained that this would be a two-year pilot program, after which American Tower would think about doing it Island-wide, “so if you came to Martha’s Vineyard, you could sign up for a week’s worth of Internet service and be able to go town to town and be inside their zones.”

Mr. Carroll said American Tower thought it was a good opportunity to see if there was a market for the beach, but he explained that was not his purpose for exploring the idea — he only wanted the harbor covered and to have the town’s infrastructure needs met.

“It comes back to potential revenue sources for the company; that’s why they want to extend it out to the beach,” selectman Rossi said. “I have mixed feelings about that. Why does someone want to have Internet on the beach when they are on vacation and want to get away from all of that?”

Mr. Malkin weighed in and suggested the beach antenna be dropped. “I’m certainly happy to see a test for the harbor issues, but ultimately it will be a town responsibility to some extent to help their business model work. I’d be very comfortable if they could do it with just the three nodes.”

Selectmen approved a two-year trial Wi-Fi program by American Tower contingent upon not using the fourth beach node and not having antenna or wires running from the other three nodes.

In other business

Selectmen also heard from Martha’s Vineyard Public School (MVPS) Superintendent Matthew D’Andrea, school business administrator Amy Tierney, and Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD) committee member Robert Lionette about the $998,401 that will be borrowed to tackle 11 UIRSD capital projects. The largest items are the West Tisbury School bathroom renovations at $300,000 and the Chilmark School’s HVAC at $200,000.

“This is a lesson for all of us,” said Mr. Doty. “As we go to new municipal buildings that have an architect design a system a certain way, and they pass their engineering off to an engineering designer, they design something that is a complicated system that requires a sophisticated maintenance program — something that’s simpler works for us much better. We need to make sure it’s something that local people can service.”

In terms of the $998,401 borrowing request, Mr. Doty said that when selectmen received the letter, they had already set the town meeting warrant, and the letter said there were 60 days to decide, which has now passed.

Ms. Tierney told The Times that because no one went to town meeting and heard a no, that the district will proceed with the borrowing and tackle the projects. The projects are likely not going to all get done this summer, according to Ms. Tierney.

Also Tuesday, selectmen heard a request from 7-year-old Charter School student Maeve Cook-Martin that a small dirt road connecting Ridge Hill Road and South Road in the Nabs Corner community housing development be named Little Wing Road.

“To me, that road is a wing road,” Maeve’s mother Caitlin Cook said. “It just came to me, it’s actually a Jimi Hendrix song, ‘Little Wing.’ I felt like it was a community-building moment — they all loved the name. It just seems like the perfect name; I can’t put my finger on exactly why.” Selectmen approved the name.

In other business, selectmen awarded four aquaculture grants in Menemsha Pond to Jesse Burton, Walter Wlodyka, Lev Wlodyka, and Elisha Wiesner.

“This gives us 10 oyster grants, and hopefully you guys can get going. Good luck, I hope it’s a good thing,” said Mr. Doty.

Selectmen also expressed concern over the unlit barge that is sitting in the water in Menemsha and the possible safety issues with the upcoming busy harbor traffic. The town cannot put lights on the barge, because if one light went out and an accident happened, the town would “own the liability.” One idea was to put lighted buoys on either side of the barge. This topic will be revisited after Harbormaster Denis Jason considers the options.

Also noted was that Chilmark has one of the lowest tax rates in the commonwealth, at $2.78 per $1,000. Only Hancock has a lower rate.

Last, starting in June, selectmen will conduct their bimonthly meetings at 5 pm, to be in line with other towns’ selectmen meeting times around the Island.