STOCKBRIDGE -- On the eve of an annual town meeting vote that would authorize the Select Board to seek competitive bids to construct a new cell tower in town, Verizon Wireless has signaled its interest in ending downtown signal gaps described as a public safety hazard by the town's current and former police chiefs.
The uselessness of cell phones at the Red Lion Inn and its surroundings in the heart of the community has been bemoaned by the inn's management and other business leaders as a major inconvenience to visitors, residents and downtown employees.
Verizon Wireless, which has now added 4G LTE service to its rebuilt tower near the Massachusetts Turnpike north of town, continues to explore locations for a new cell site to extend service into downtown Stockbridge, said company spokesman Michael Murphy in an email responding to an Eagle query.
The enhanced technology on the current site at the Inn at Stockbridge off Route 7 near the MassPike overpass does not extend coverage geography, he acknowledged, but improves service within the existing signal area. Because of the downtown area's location at a lower elevation than its surroundings, the existing Verizon tower does not reach the central business district.
The same problem affects other wireless carriers. The only other tower, at the Sportsmen's Club off Route 102, is too far west to reach the busy Main Street area near the intersection of that highway and Route 7.
Since he took over in February, Police Chief Robert N. Eaton has helped lead the charge for a cell service up-
grade. When the Elm Street branch of Lee Bank was robbed on March 10, he and his officers were hampered by the signal gap.
"It's not just a matter of convenience, it's a public safety issue," Eaton said.
Former Police Chief Richard "Rick" Wilcox had listed several emergency responses during his tenure that were hampered by a lack of a usable cell signal.
Voters are asked to approve Article 29 on the town meeting warrant that would authorize the Selectmen to lease for up to 30 years a site on the town-owned former landfill at Glendale Middle Road to the winners of competitive bids for construction of a cell tower. The Select Board would award a special permit, and a new tower could be operating by the end of the year.
Monday's meeting at 6:30 p.m. is at the Town Offices, 50 Main St.; it is preceded by a special town meeting at 6.
Massachusetts law covering projects costing $25,000 or more requires competitive, sealed bids from potential developers.
According to Town Administrator Jorja Ann Marsden, two providers have expressed interest, and Verizon Wireless representatives have toured the proposed site recently.
In its announcement of enhanced network coverage using 4G LTE technology, Verizon Wireless stated that customers can use the Internet and download files at speeds up to 10 times faster than customers on 3G networks. The installation in Stockbridge was part of the company's $245 million investment in wireless network enhancements throughout New England.
To contact Clarence Fanto:
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On Twitter: @BE_cfanto.