Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority's Wi-Fi Plan Stalls

Residents and local officials have cried foul over not being notified of the project to deliver Wi-Fi service to commuter rail riders by installing 320 monopole towers — each 74 feet high — along the North of Boston rail lines.

by Ray Lamont, Gloucester Daily Times, Mass. / July 28, 2017
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(TNS) -- Cape Ann’s three state lawmakers are stepping up their call for the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority's (MBTA) management board to not only take a fresh look at its planned monopole Wi-Fi project but to pull back the existing contract if it cannot “protect communities from potential negative impacts.”

A letter authored by state Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, and signed Thursday by state representatives Brad Hill, R-Ipswich, and Ann-Margaret Ferrante, D-Gloucester, targets the MBTA’s contract with communications company inMOTION Wireless Inc. The company was hired to deliver Wi-Fi service to commuter rail riders by installing 320 monopole towers — each 74 feet high — along the North of Boston rail lines.

The plan includes placing up to eight poles in Gloucester, five in Manchester and two in Rockport, and the agency has a contract with InMOTION signed in July 2014, with state and federal permits for the project already granted. But residents and local officials have cried foul over not being notified of the projects, initially set to begin by the end of this month.

The MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board, however, called for a review of the project in late June. The state’s congressional delegation — including Congressman Seth Moulton, whose district includes all of Cape Ann and other parts of the North Shore — sent a letter Monday to the Federal Communications Commission asking regulators to “carefully examine” the project and how installing the poles “could impact the historic and cultural character” of cities and towns along the route.

The letter sent by Tarr to Joseph Aiello, who chairs the MBTA control board, raises the ante by calling for an entirely new request for proposals if community concerns cannot be addressed.

“First and foremost, we request that you take every available action to prevent harm to the communities scheduled to host towers,” the letter reads. “If you conclude that your ability to protect these communities is limited or impeded by the terms of the current license, then we request that you pursue termination of that license and the release of a new request for proposals (RFP) for the provision of WiFi service to MBTA riders in a cost-effective, technologically advanced manner that does not adversely affect communities and individuals (along) commuter rail lines.”

“T leaders should take every available action to prevent harm to communities where monopole towers have been scheduled,” Tarr said. “I know that once these towers are installed they will leave permanent impacts on the landscape, (and) if protections can’t be secured from the existing terms, then they should consider issuing requests for new proposals.”

Of the towers targeted for Cape Ann, five would be placed in West Gloucester alone — though none would be installed in historic areas or in the city’s downtown. The closest to the city center would be along the rail bed just south of the Route 128 Extension overpass as it crosses the tracks just north of Gloucester Avenue.

Alan MacMillan, a Rockport resident who formerly worked as an MBTA locomotive engineer but has been critical of the agency’s handling of several issues, says he thinks concerns over the monopoles are “overblown.”

“People need to get a grip,” said MacMillan, who serves on Rockport’s Conservation Commission. He noted all of the utility poles that have long been in place and that residents pass by without noticing.

“Look, I’m not a fan of the MBTA — I think it often stands for Money Being Thrown Away or More Broken Trains Again,” he said. “But they do already have state and federal permits, and I would bet that, if (the monopoles) are built, within a month, 99 percent of the complaints will disappear.”

He added that Rockport’s conservation panel heard a presentation from MBTA representatives earlier this year, and said that the poles slated for that community should not be within sight of a public roadway, unless curious visitors venture into the woods.

“We didn’t think it was any big deal,” he said.

But Hill, whose district includes the town of Manchester and spans parts of both the Rockport and Newburyport branch rail lines, said that’s not the case everywhere.

“We know that many of these towers are scheduled to be put close to homes and historic districts without consultation and with minimal communication,” he said. “Local leaders, private citizens and even MBTA officials have found too many gaps in what we should know about these plans.”

©2017 the Gloucester Daily Times (Gloucester, Mass.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.