Towering proposition comes before Bennington planners

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BENNINGTON >> A representative from the wireless services company Mobilitie outlined for the Planning Commission on Monday a proposed nationwide system of towers located within public rights-of-way.

Jennille Smith, Mobilitie's permitting manager in the region, said she and about 200 other employees around the U.S. began approaching community leaders in every state a month ago to explain the goal to create up to 70,000 wireless cells.

The company earlier sent out engineering and technical personnel to identify the best location in each community that Mobilitie believes will see a significant increase in demand for wireless services of all kinds, Smith told planners.

In Bennington, the chosen site for a 120-foot tower, 4 feet wide at the base, was in the area of 129-147 Depot St. That is near the Bennington Station Restaurant and the Walloomsac Pathway.

Planners, who were receiving a preliminary briefing on the proposal, immediate raised a number of possible or definite concerns, but they also noted a perceived need for expanded and improved wireless services in Bennington. Other than the height of the steel tower and its 4-foot base, the principal objection was that it would directly impact the view of the Bennington Battle Monument to the west.

"I think the juxtaposition with the view of the monument is kind of a non-starter for most people," said town Planning Director Daniel Monks.

But he and others acknowledged a strong interest in enhanced wireless capacity and for the advanced technology the company is promising. "The issue is, can we figure out if there is a place in town for this," he said.

Despite the height of the towers, there are several advantages to the cells Mobilitie plans to create in communities it concludes agreements with, Smith said. For example, there is no need for an equipment shed or other structure at the ground level and the pole is connected to fiber optic cable rather than a phone land line.

In addition, she said more than one wireless company would be expected to lease space on a single tower, and with new technology the antennas would be smaller than those now often mounted on mountain ridges or other locations.

"A goal is to be streamlined and not look like an old-fashioned cell tower," Smith said.

The company also has decided not to go through the state Public Service Board seeking siting permits, she said, but to work toward agreements with communities.

"Our business model is to be in the public rights-of-way," she said, "and we are asserting ourselves as a public utility."

She likened the system to that of utility poles placed along streets under agreements with the community. "Part of our goal is to work with the local jurisdictions," Smith said, adding that, when communities object to the chosen location, the company will consider other locations if acceptable to the city or town.

The catch, she told planners, is that the location would have to meet the service capacity and other technical goals of Mobilitie. At the site identified by company personnel, there would be a clear line of sight in all directions from the pole.

Every shift one way or another could affect the service range the company would offer its business customers and could also move it too far away from fiber optic cable or away from an electric power line, which also is required. For instance, she said, a more remote location on the side of a mountain ridge would likely not have 360 degree coverage and might lack either power or fiber or both.

In addition to expanding capacity for wireless communications, the system could allow capacity for smart cars, smart refrigerators and any number of needs not yet fully anticipated but technically possible.

Agreements also are expected with communities to provide some communications enhancement benefit to local emergency response personnel, Smith said.

In selecting potential sites in every state, she said Mobilitie looked for areas where the demand is expected to surge. "Bennington is booming," she said. "We look for greater demand in Bennington."

Those projections are in part based on such factors as the location of colleges — in this area, Bennington College and Southern Vermont College.

Smith said that sometimes when she first visits a community she quickly understands that the site chosen for technical reasons might not be acceptable. "I understand that this is not an ideal site in Bennington," she said, referring to its viewshed proximity to the 306-foot monument.

She asked the officials for help "to find a location that might make sense."

In answer to questions from Monks and planners, Smith said that photo simulations of any location to be considered would be developed, and she added that the agreement with the town could include a range of conditions and specifications that would have to be worked out.

One option, she said, would be to use more than one shorter tower in town, but such proposals would have to be analyzed for effectiveness, cost and other factors. She said she believes the Federal Aviation Administration also might require warning lights on a tower depending on its proximity to the William Morse State Airport.

Smith said Mobilitie — mobilitie.com — began in 2005 by creating a system of internal wireless antennas within buildings in cities; then it focused on systems on 60-foot city light poles, and now it is into "phase three" of an expansion to install up to 70,000 cells around the country — the first within the next 12 to 18 months.

The steel poles are installed in a base of concrete and will meet state requirements to prevent them being knocked down or upended in a storm, Smith said.

Jim Therrien reports for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont and for VtDigger.org.


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