There is a new snag in consideration of a proposal to improve the cell phone service in the Vineyard’s three up-Island towns. American Tower Corporation (ATC) now wants to change the terms of the proposed contract to the towns of Aquinnah, Chilmark, and West Tisbury. The changes will delay the process of approving a contract and moving to permitting and construction.

According to Chilmark executive secretary Tim Carroll, the Chilmark and Aquinnah selectmen serving on the distributed antenna system (DAS) committee had scheduled the presentation of the original contract to their selectmen on Tuesday this week, but the requested changes in the proposed contract have delayed that review. Mr. Carroll says he hopes to meet with ATC officials on November 23, to conclude the contract.

November 30 remains the date for a joint meeting of the zoning boards of appeal (ZBA) in both Chilmark and Aquinnah, to review the application for construction permits to be presented by officials of ATC. If the ZBAs approve the permit requests at that meeting, ATC officials hope to get the lengthy construction process under way as soon as possible, with an eye to having a working DAS system by summer, ATC spokesman Alex Gamota told the MV Times.

In West Tisbury, there is no scheduled date for presentation of an ATC contract to the town’s selectmen, DAS committee member and selectman Richard Knabel told the MV Times. ATC has not yet made application to West Tisbury for a zoning review and the permitting of construction there, although Mr. Gamota said that “we hope to do that shortly. We would like the end of this month as a target.”

The specific terms of the contract remain confidential, according to DAS committee chairman and Chilmark selectman J.B. Riggs Parker. However, in past public discussions the contract terms have been reported to provide a fee of $150,000 (to be split between the three towns) from each of as many as three potential carriers that may agree to provide service to the towns. There may also be other fees that the three towns would share, based on usage.

On October 22, the MV Times reported that the DAS committee had been informed by ATC that it had received a written “expression of interest” from T-Mobile. Until it secured a carrier, ATC had been reluctant to proceed with the permitting process.

As a result of summer testing, ATC modified its original permitting application for the second time, this time increasing the number of antenna nodes from 46 to 55. Four new nodes will be added in West Tisbury, four in Chilmark, and one in Aquinnah. These additional nodes, as well as those in the original plan, will be located along public roads, according to Mr. Gamota.

And, according to Mr. Parker, new ATC drawings of the system’s hub, or hotel, to be located at the Chilmark dump, have moved that structure from land that Chilmark purchased using Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds to the other side of the dump where the land is owned by Chilmark “free and clear.”

by Susan Silk