Flip-Flop Decisions Put AT&T Equipment Swap on Hold

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AT&T was denied approval last week to replace some of its equipment on a tower located on a Newport, Rhode Island school property. Complaints by residents have been consistent over the years since the tower was erected. Newport School Committee (NSC) members, however, have flip-flopped their positions about tower lease renewals, causing confusion and debate among committee members and area residents. 

Located on the grounds of Rogers High School, the tower once had leases with all three major carriers – AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon. In 2015, the school committee voted not to renew any of the leases once they expired.  

In a reversal of opinion in 2018, the same committee voted 4 – 2 to issue RFPs to T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T to renew their lease terms. According to a report by NewportRI.com, Verizon and T-Mobile’s RFPs did not meet committee expectations and both carriers have since removed their equipment from the site. AT&T remained the sole tenant after the school committee voted 4 – 3 in March of 2019, to approve the carrier’s contract. The new lease was fully executed last month and is in effect through April 2022. 

So, why would the committee now vote against allowing AT&T to replace larger antennas with smaller antennas? 

Newport Now reported committee member Robert Leary said, “A few years back, the NSC voted to end the leases with all three or four telecommunications companies and to deconstruct the steel structure. Then, a new school committee, who took no part in years of information flow workshops, overturned the vote. Ironically, only one company was interested in returning. The others found a new location.” 

Comments during the Zoom call last week showed divisiveness about the issue. In a written letter to the committee, resident Stephen Turcotte said, “The school committee should not be in the business of cell towers.” 

In response, NSC chairman Raymond Gomes said an addendum to AT&T’s lease required that any equipment changes must go through the School Committee. “I thought this would just be a formality,” he said. “The footprint was going to become smaller, not larger, but it was voted down.”

Attorney Edward Pare, representing AT&T, said, “The updates are required. Just like any equipment, it needs to be replaced from time-to-time. We are actually reducing equipment at the base. But it is required to keep that [tower] functioning. We are cognizant of the neighbors. We recognize we are near a public high school.” 

Whether or not the NSC reverses its opinion about the equipment replacement, no work is likely to take place on the tower any time soon. Osprey have been spotted nesting on the tower.

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