Editors, Vineyard Gazette:

The proposed distributed antenna system (DAS), to improve wireless and public service telecommunications up-Island, has many facets to it, as I have learned over the past year since I inherited West Tisbury’s place on the tri-town DAS committee.

Providing accurate information to the public on such a complex issue is never easy, and that process has just begun. With that in mind, I would like to offer some clarifications.

The Gazette’s coverage of the last week’s well-attended informational meeting in West Tisbury, reported that the “town last year signed a memorandum of understanding with Aquinnah and Chilmark to jointly build a new DAS system.”

Yes, there is a memorandum of understanding among the three towns governing the collaborative investigation of building such a system, and some administrative aspects of operating it were it to be built; however, the memorandum is not a commitment on the part of any town to actually build a DAS system. It merely represents a joint effort to find out if a private company is interested in building such a system, and on what basis. The towns would not be building the system in any case. Its construction cost would be borne by the selected company after all three towns enter into a contract with that company. Such a contract does not exist, and would have to be agreed to by all three boards of selectmen upon the recommendation of the DAS committee, which has not made such a recommendation.

And here is a fine point: if the selectmen in any of the towns decide not to join in signing a contract for a DAS system, the primary consequence of such a refusal is a financial one for that town: that is, the financial benefits, the revenue stream, provided to the town by the DAS owner and operator, doesn’t happen. But the DAS system, or additional cell phone towers, could still be built, as provided under the federal 1996 Telecommunications Act.

With regard to redundant coverage, a number of people at last week’s meeting stated, at least in their opinion, that West Tisbury already had adequate wireless coverage, and didn’t need any more. About a third of the people in the room indicated they didn’t have adequate coverage, and so I doubt they would share this view. In any case, no wireless provider is going to build or buy more wireless coverage from a neutral host than they need or want. It makes no economic sense. So there is no issue of repetitive systems. Wireless carriers, like AT& T and Verizon, or wireless providers like American Tower, with whom the DAS Committee is working, are not going to build infrastructure they don’t need now especially since a DAS system is three to five times more expensive to build than a tower.

Basically, the collaborative effort by the three towns to investigate and perhaps sanction the construction of a DAS system by a neutral host like American Tower is an effort to control the future of wireless communication and technology as it evolves, and also derive some direct financial benefit for the towns beyond improved communications for public service agencies.

There is much more to be said. I urge everyone to stay tuned.

Richard Knabel

West Tisbury

We Need It

Editors, Vineyard Gazette:

After I attended the West Tisbury selectmen’s DAS (Distributed Antenna System) meeting the other night and listened to the pros and cons my own position has solidified. But to begin with, a story told to me by my mother. Many years ago, my elderly great-grandmother and great-great-aunt were on their way to the Chilmark church a few miles from where they lived in Quitsa. The dirt roads were dusty and heavily rutted. Very kindly, the Vincent brothers offered to drive them in their Model T Ford. But down by Hariph’s Creek Bridge the car fell over on its side. After the Vincent brothers helped the sisters in law out, my great-great-aunt swore she’d never ride in such a terrible, unreliable, newfangled, frightening machine again and walked back home. My great-grandmother waited while the brothers pushed the Model T upright, then got back in and continued to the church. She had decided that the car would get her to the church on time, not just then, but over and over and over again in the future.

Regardless of the fact that automobiles were intrinsically dangerous, and frightening to horses, and that their use meant children could no longer play freely in sandy roadways, the car for all its problems became a useful tool. Now, still dangerous, it routinely transports us and our children.

Today many people are dependent on cell phones. The fact that a number of West Tisbury homes already have cell phone service is not a reason to assume everyone who wants it has it. There are pockets where residents, as well as summer people, have no service, but should. Safety is the foremost objective. Every accident is an isolated event, whether on the roadways or in our homes. I keep a cell phone and hope that one day I will have service from my home.

Contractors, deliverymen, medical personnel, people who come up-Island on a daily basis to work, parents needing to contact their children, children needing to call home — all deserve the benefits offered by 21st century communication.

Working with Chilmark and Aquinnah, in a spirit of cooperation, West Tisbury selectmen have introduced the town to cell phone service that would cover a more substantial number of townspeople with the idea that a service provider or providers would in time be able to extend that coverage to our beaches. In addition, as presented to us by Alexander Gamota of American Tower Corporation the town would receive a fee and participate in revenue sharing.

This DAS plan makes sense.

Barbara Day

West Tisbury

with permission, MV Gazette June 5, 2009

Reading the Fine Print