2015-12-17 / Opinion

No Time to Lose on Cell Service


The Newport School Committee’s 5-1 decision on Dec. 8 to end leases of three cellular communication companies that rent space on a tower on the Rogers High School campus may have sounded to neighbors and other tower foes like a great victory for “quality of life” at the end of a classic struggle.

And for them, that may turn out to be true.

But for the city of Newport, this decision has the potential to create problems.

The tower contracts for T Mobile, AT&T and Verizon do not conclude until June, October and December of 2017 when the companies will be compelled to remove their cellular equipment.

That means there is less than two years to find a location for a new cell tower, without which communications in the southern part of Newport would, we’ve been told, be compromised. In these days of modern electronic communications, a failure of technology in any part of the city could severely jeopardize the public’s health and safety and therefore cannot be tolerated.

But where to locate a new tower?

As a somewhat compact city surrounded on three sides either by Narragansett Bay or the Atlantic Ocean, Newport seems to have no potential location that would avoid a similar neighborhood chorus of objections on noise and emissions.

But not all cellular installations are of the giant tower variety. Another alternative, potentially less controversial, would be to find a tall building to host the necessary cellular equipment. Newport has just a handful of cellular installations, while Middletown, with much more ground to cover, has considerably more.

We do not envy Newport city officials, who may necessarily have a hand in resolving this sticky “not in my backyard” dilemma. While one of the cell company attorneys lamented that microwave ovens and cell phones are “more of a problem than the tower,” it remains difficult to envision another Newport neighborhood welcoming a new tower with enthusiasm, whether their concerns are legitimate or not.

One way or the other, city officials will need to be involved in this process. As Joseph Hall, the attorney representing Verizon, said, “Public safety is a big element in all of this.”

We do know this. Someone in city government needs to figure out a way to pull a reluctant rabbit out of a hat on this thorny issue.

Now is the time to start searching for a solution. Before you know it, 2017 will be here. There is no time to lose.

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