MONTEREY -- The new year will carry with it a positive change in the town of Monterey: cellphone reception. Or at least in part in the town and for a portion of its cellphone customers.

By the end of January, AT&T expects a cell tower built on the town's westside at 31 Main Road to allow for service along portions of routes 23 and 57, according to AT&T-New England spokesman Will Keyser. Service will also be available along Blue Hill Road and Monument Valley Road.

"The tower is fully constructed, the antennas are on the tower," Keyser said. "The physical structure is complete. The remaining work is the connecting of the tower to the network."

Florida Tower Partners, based in Bradenton, Fla., built the tower that is being leased by AT&T. But can handle up to five providers, according to Todd Bowman, who handles cell tower leasing and acquisitions for the the company. That leaves open the hope that cellphone service would improve for Verizon and other service providers.

Cell reception in town is spotty at best, according to town officials, and nonexistent in most cases.

Planning Board Member Maggie Leonard said that up unitl "three or four years" ago a cell tower could only be constructed on Mount Wilcox in Beartown State Forest. The Planning Board has since made the entire town a wireless communication district.

There are numerous stories about times when cell service would have helped in a distressing situation.

Police Chief Gareth Backhaus recalls a female driver driving her car off the road during a snowstorm, and being stranded for five hours in the car. The memories of a 2003 plane crashing into Mount Wilcox in the state forest that resulted in the death of a couple and two of their five children also remains fresh with Backhaus. Three young boys, with the oldest being 10, were stranded on the mountain for 18 hours and suffered severe hypothermia, according to news reports. They would surely have benefited from cellphone service, Backhaus said.

"It's so sparse you can't really say it does [exist]," said Backhaus, who said the department strongly supports the cell tower. "There are a couple spots where you can walk around and get a signal for a bit, but it isn't anything."

AT&T had examined the possibility of another cell tower near the Monterey-Sandisfield border, but that tower is "not under active consideration at this time," Keyser said. He declined to comment if other cell towers will be explored.

Realtor Chapin Fish, of Brockman Real Estate, said the towns of Monterey and New Marlborough have the worst cell service in Berkshire County. There are no current plans for cell towers in New Marlborough, according to town administrative assistant Michael Skorput, who said residents have openly offered their land and the town has solicited cell service in the past.

While the absence of Internet connection is a larger stumbling block, Fish said there are some who won't buy a house in town if they can't use their cellphone.

"They aren't happy about it," Fish said. "Some will still buy it, but a handful won't."

To reach John Sakata:
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