State OKs Vernon broadband tower


VERNON -- VTel has received permission to build a new tower in Vernon, furthering the Springfield company’s push to expand a wireless-broadband network statewide.

The Vermont Public Service Board this week granted a certificate of public good for VTel Wireless Inc. to construct a 90-foot tower at 407 Pond Road in Vernon.

The proposal was the subject of a public meeting last fall, and it did not generate any significant opposition. Now, the Public Service Board has ruled that the tower will not have "an undue adverse impact" on the area around it.

The board’s considerations included aesthetics and the "scenic or natural beauty of the area."

"The relatively small size of the tower, along with the flush-mounted antennas, will minimize visibility of the project," board members wrote in a decision dated July 29. "The project does not violate any clear written community standard intended to protect scenic resources and will not appear shocking or offensive to the average viewer."

Cellular carriers have been improving Vermont’s sometimes-spotty phone service; in this area, AT&T has been aggressively seeking state permission to install new towers and equipment.

VTel has been pursuing something different: The company is building facilities that will send out a wireless, high-speed Internet signal, a service marketed as an alternative to traditional, cable-based Internet providers.

With federal funding playing a role, and with Gov. Peter Shumlin’s administration having made broadband expansion a top priority, VTel has been developing new facilities all over the state.

Online state records show that the Public Service Board has approved new VTel equipment at 17 Vermont sites since January. On July 1, the company hosted a ceremony in Hardwick for "commercial launch of high-speed wireless broadband in 24 unserved and underserved rural Vermont towns."

It is not clear whether that system is up and running in any Windham County communities at this point. A company spokeswoman did not provide that information in response to an inquiry from the Reformer on Wednesday.

But VTel has garnered certificates of public good for many local projects: Last fall, for example, the company received permission to place new antennas on existing towers in Townshend, Putney and Westminster, and VTel also got the go-ahead to build a new, 90-foot tower in Guilford.

This year has brought more such projects. On Jan. 31, the state gave approval for VTel to build a 140-foot tower on Old Hogback Road in Marlboro, and on June 23, there was a certificate of public good issued for the company to place antennas on an existing tower in Putney.

At a meeting in October 2013 in Vernon, an attorney representing VTel detailed plans for the new tower on Pond Road. The facility, Burlington-based attorney Elizabeth Kohler said at the time, could reach 1,200 homes and business in Vernon and surrounding communities.

In response to questions at that meeting, Kohler said VTel had looked into placing its broadband antennas on existing towers and structures in Vernon, "but none of those worked to give us the coverage we need."

VTel on Dec. 16 petitioned the Public Service Board for permission to build the Vernon tower. The following month, records show, the state Department of Public Service -- a separate regulatory entity -- recommended that the application be approved "without additional hearings or investigation."

The project includes installation of a 90-foot monopole tower with nine flush-mounted panel antennas and two dish antennas. There also will be an equipment cabinet on a concrete pad; access to the facility will be via an existing driveway and a new gravel road extending 80 feet from that driveway.

In addition to determining that the tower will not have undue aesthetic impacts, the Public Service Board also found that there will be no adverse impact on rare or irreplaceable natural areas; wildlife habitat; endangered species; or historic sites.

The project also is consistent with the Vernon Town Plan and the Windham Regional Plan, the board ruled. No local land-use or zoning permits are required.


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