After more than a year of planning, negotiations, and construction, Verizon Communications has activated its cellular service in Williamstown. Service began in December. The Verizon antenna was erected atop the College heating plant’s smokestack after comprehensive signal tests ensured that reception could be guaranteed for a minimum radius of 10 miles extending from the smokestack.
At the moment, only Verizon customers can take advantage of all the features of digital cellular service. AT & T Wireless customers can get limited roaming service, but other providers have yet to construct antennas in the area. According to Steve Mischissin, Director of Facilities and Auxiliary Services for Buildings and Grounds and liaison for the cellular tower project, the Sprint Corporation plans to erect a separate antenna for its Sprint PCS network in the next few months. Mischissin described the process required to gain approval for Sprint’s proposal from the Town as elaborate.
The Zoning Board first approved the Sprint petition in December. According to operating codes for Williamstown, the Zoning Board’s official decision, along with the voting record of the Board members, must be sent to the Town Clerk within 90 days of the Board making the decision. However, the paperwork is normally completed in less than the official 90-day period. After the Town Clerk receives the petition, a 20-day appeals period begins, during which residents can issue complaints. If the decision stands, then construction can finally start.
Mischissin also said that Sprint plans to build its antenna 10 feet below the Verizon array already on the smokestack to avoid signal interference.
The actual construction of the Sprint array should take less than 30 days. Conservative estimates of how long the process will take place the final activation of Sprint PCS service in June.
The College currently receives lease payments from Verizon for access to the smokestack and plans to negotiate an agreement with Sprint once the second array is activated.
The companies are entirely responsible for equipment maintenance. Mischissin mentioned that he has been in contact with other cellular providers such as Cingular, but only the Sprint petition has been confirmed and Cingular has not pursued approval.
When asked about the impact of cell phones on campus life, Helen Ouellette, Vice-President and Treasurer placed the responsibility for proper use on the students.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate for the college either to encourage or discourage cell phone use,” she said.
“I would assume that individual faculty will make it clear how they feel about having a class interrupted by a ringing phone. In fact, I would hope that an etiquette of cell phone use would develop as the technology becomes more ubiquitous, and in fact I think I see that happening. This is a technology that is clearly here to stay, at least for a while, and it brings tremendous convenience, but we all need to be thoughtful about how we use it.”