Tower is an easy call


“What’s that?”

“Hold on a minute, I can’t hear you.”

“You’re going to have to call me back.”

Dropped call.

Let’s face it. We’ve all had these kinds of phone conversations on Martha’s Vineyard.

There is a proposal before the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to help improve cell coverage on Chappaquiddick, where communications can be especially difficult. You would think the residents on Chappy would be all on board with the idea, but you would be wrong.

There was a packed house before the commission last week when AT&T went before commissioners seeking to replace a temporary monopole with a permanent fixture that other companies, including Verizon, could also use to improve service.

The arguments on both sides break down to this: Opponents don’t want the tower for aesthetic reasons, while proponents say the tower would improve communications, particularly safety communications.

We could imagine that the same type of debate went on when landlines were brought to remote areas and electricity, too. Is there anything more unsightly than power lines, but who among us would like to do without the electricity they bring?

There’s no question about the beauty of Chappy. The ocean vistas and expansive beaches make it well worth the $12 auto fee to cross over on the Chappy Ferry. “It will completely change the feeling and flavor of our neighborhood,” Sampson Avenue resident Molly Pickett said. “It seems totally contradictory in what we come to Chappaquiddick for.”

But a single tower with multiple antennas, possibly as many as nine, isn’t going to change that beauty. Eventually cell towers and utility lines become something that doesn’t even catch our eye anymore.

And we’ll never know when we might be in the position of Hanley Clifford, a Chappy resident who credits the monopole put in place by AT&T with helping to save his life.

Mr. Clifford’s story is a compelling one. As The Times reported, he was using a chainsaw on April 18 when he cut his lower leg to the bone in a terrible accident. “They were able to find me because they could zero in on my cell signal,” Mr. Clifford told commissioners. “Before the tower, I would never have gotten through.”

Mr. Clifford told his story after both fire chief Peter Shemeth and police chief David Rossi offered testimony about the need for improved cell service in the name of public safety.

“That cell tower saved my life,” Mr. Clifford testified. “I live in the shadow of the tower, and I love seeing it. We have a chance to actually get something done here. Let’s move ahead with this.”

We started this piece with a common annoyance, cell phone conversations that get dropped. We have text messages that won’t go through and email messages that never seem to send. In a world of instant communication, Vineyard residents in remote parts of the Island are often cut off. Some people are willing to live with those annoying moments because of the beauty that surrounds them. But as Mr. Clifford’s tale shows, this is about more than aesthetics and quaint Island life.

Cell service can save a life, and that’s all the commission should need to know to give the AT&T project the green light when it reconvenes the public hearing on the project on Nov. 2.