2018-10-11 / Front Page

Door Open Again for Cellular Companies

By James Merolla

An equipment shed constructed at the base of the Rogers High School cell tower in July 2015 added to the consternation of neighbors. 
(NTW File photo) An equipment shed constructed at the base of the Rogers High School cell tower in July 2015 added to the consternation of neighbors. (NTW File photo) Several cellular companies could soon be signing new leases to continue generating cell phone signals atop the tower at Rogers High School after the Newport School Committee voted 4-2 on Oct. 9 to list a new request for proposal in various media outlets.

The RFP, “Leasing of Location on Existing Tower at Rogers High School for Communications Facility,” was provided during the school committee meeting and stated that Newport Public Schools must receive all sealed proposals by 10 a.m. on Oct. 24.

“As you know, this has been an issue of contention with the city,” said School Committee Chairman Raymond Gomes. “At the city’s urging, the cell tower was allowed to stay. The city says there are no other locations and … has urged we put the RFP out for proposals.”

Gomes added that the new RFP has addressed salient issues raised by neighbors who railed for months against the tower and its tenants. “Many things are written into this RFP: unsightliness, noise, emissions. It really has the concerns of the neighbors written into it.”

Committee member David Carlin cast one of the two dissenting votes, along with Rebecca Bolan.

“I think what we are doing tonight is a complete insult to the neighbors,” Carlin said. “The process has been very important to them for three-and-a-half years now. The School Committee has told lessees to vacate the tower on Rogers High. They have not done so. What we are doing now is ignoring what we have already said on the record, which is ‘Get out!’ Don’t use the Newport School Committee to get a better deal. You can get a deal. You don’t want to spend the money.

“If we do this, we are telling the neighbors, ‘We don’t care what we said in several past votes.’ And that [we value] three multi-billion-dollar cell phone companies more highly than our neighbors.”

Gomes defended the action.

“I have discussed it with many neighbors… This is simply a request to the vendors to come back. I would safely say that not all the neighbors support this, and will have the opportunity before leases are approved to come before us and speak to this,” he said.

Gomes said a list of requirements within the RFP document represents an improvement over what currently exists. He also said that the proposed leases would triple the current rents, but Carlin disputed that.

School attorney Neil Galvin confirmed that one company paid $29,000 per year, or about $90,000 in leases, for three years, while AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon, which still occupy the site, continue to pay fees. Galvin said the new rates would at least double. By Carlin’s figures, about $180,000 would be raised per year, as opposed to the current rate.

In December 2015, the School Committee voted not to renew the telecommunications contracts once they expired. The decision came after months of protest by families who live near the school. But in February, the committee decided not to evict the three telecommunications companies from the Rogers High cell tower, although their individual contracts ran out last year. Verizon’s contract expired on June 18, AT&T’s on Oct. 23, and T-Mobile’s on Dec. 28.

Eight months ago, the committee said action on the tower must be rendered by the City Council. Attorneys for the cellular companies have argued that if the signals are removed, the Fifth Ward area “would go dark” for cell phone use, cutting off emergency calls and connections to vital services.

The last time a cell company lawyer appeared before the City Council was in November 2017 when Ed Pare, an attorney representing AT&T, offered a new solution to ending the leases on the tower: Build another one on campus, twice as high.

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