While debate continues about the placement of cell phone towers in other parts of the Island, Chappaquiddick residents continue to fight to bring cell phone and cable service to the small island off the coast of downtown Edgartown.
After almost a year and a half of negotiations, a committee negotiating the terms of Islandwide cable service signed off on a draft contract with Comcast earlier in January. The 10-year contract would include coverage for Chappaquiddick, but at a cost: subscribers would be required to pay a one-time fee of $2,140, and to commit to a year-round subscription for two years. Those who live farther away from the main cable conduit may have to pay additional fees. At least 270 homes on Chappaquiddick would be required to subscribe by the end of this year to bring cable to the Island. A cable package would be required to get internet service.
At the Edgartown selectmen’s meeting Monday, several Chappy residents came to discuss the details of the tentative deal. Each Island town has to approve the contract, and the Edgartown selectmen voted unanimously to support the contract on Monday. But details of how the Island community could receive service were still a topic of concern.
Jen Rand, chairman of the Cable Advisory Committee, said Edgartown will contribute $131,000 toward construction of build-out from its share of its MVTV funds.
“We as a committee recognize that . . . in an ideal world residents on Chappaquiddick would be treated like everyone else on Martha’s Vineyard,” Ms. Rand said.
“This is as good as it’s going to get if Chappy wants service,” she said, adding that it was better than having no service option or individual payments in the realm of $7,000 to $8,000.
But several Chappaquiddick residents expressed concern about getting enough people to sign up, and asked the town to explore other avenues of funding.
Chappaquiddick resident Dennis Golden said that while he appreciated the committee’s hard work, the deal is “unfair intrinsically.” He said that a group had been in contact with Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank to create a deferred plan with monthly payments for about 10 people, and asked if there was a way to “creatively think together” for the town to help reach the 270 household threshold. “Frankly, the internet is a utility,” he said.
“My biggest concern with this is coming up with 270 customers before we can get the thing going,” Chappaquiddick resident Roger Becker said, adding that more people might sign on after cable is installed. “It’d be a shame to have the year go by, have 225 people and say, ‘Sorry, can’t be done.’”
Town administrator Pamela Dolby said she sent letters about the proposal to 535 Chappaquiddick residents last Friday.
While some asked if there was any flexibility in the agreement, Ms. Dolby said there wasn’t room for further negotiation. “We open this back up, we stand to lose,” she said, adding that Chappaquiddick residents could be required to sign up for a $90 a month preferred digital cable package, which was a previous part of the deal, rather than a basic cable package.
Selectman Art Smadbeck suggested asking town counsel if a “betterment” could be created so that the town can become the conduit for the payments, and perhaps add the installation fee to a tax bill, saying the betterment could be spread out over a space of time.
He added that he appreciated the support the town received during the negotiation process. “The support that Edgartown got is palpable and appreciated.”
Mrs. Dolby said she would look into the matter and schedule another meeting for Feb. 19.
In other business regarding Chappaquiddick, planning board assistant Georgiana Greenough asked the board to sign a letter to elected officials asking them to reach out to cell phone providers to urge them to work with the town on a distributed antenna system (DAS) to provide cell phone coverage for Chappaquiddick.
The town has made space available in a fire house for a DAS and said a developer is willing to build and operate the system. But the town has not been able to find a service provider to share the network. Service providers would install antennas on utility poles around Chappy.
“Rural and underserved areas tend to get overlooked by wireless carriers because of the cost of adding coverage,” the letter reads. “This is not only a quality of life issue for the many Chappy residents and guests who seek the conveniences of having cellular services, but it is also a life-safety issue when the island is isolated by bad weather and the land lines fail.”
The letter asks the representatives for help finding “decision makers” at cellular companies, and for help in finding funds that might assist the town with the project.
The letter will be sent to state Rep. Tim Madden, state Sen. Daniel Wolf, Cong. William Keating, and Sens. John Kerry and Elizabeth Warren.
“I’m a little confused,” Mr. Smadbeck said. “I don’t mind sending a letter, but usually the utilities are after us to build these facilities,” noting an ongoing project to put a cellular antenna in a silo in Katama. “I’m confused and puzzled by why AT&T or Verizon wouldn’t want to provide coverage to those areas when actively seeking to do it in other areas.”
But Mr. Becker said he wasn’t surprised by the delay, considering the wait for Comcast service. “Why, of course they wouldn’t come to Chapppy,” he said. “These large companies are not interested in two or three thousand people at the end of the world.”
The selectmen also renewed an aquaculture license for Scott Castro. Mrs. Dolby announced that Edgartown won first place in the Massachusetts Municipal Association’s town report competition in the towns smaller than 4,999 residents division.