News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, July 11, 2019
Cell service moves forward in Stonington

Communications tower installation

A crane begins installation of the communications tower on July 9.

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by Faith DeAmbrose

Anyone driving in Stonington is probably aware by now that a dip into the village means a loss of cell phone signal. The downtown area amounts to a dead-zone for cellular phone reception which is created through a combination of granite ledges high above the village area and the proximity of the existing island cell towers—none of which extend to Main Street.

Two efforts currently under way in town may make cell phone calls a reality in the near future.

On Cemetery Road, a 180-foot communications tower is expected to expand cell service throughout Stonington, including on Main Street. Construction of a concrete pad occurred last fall, and on June 9 steel beams were erected.

The tower will use lattice construction (as opposed to the monopole style used behind the high school) and will contain a light on the top to satisfy Federal Aviation Administration requirements due to the proximity of an airport. It will house AT&T with room for additional carriers, although technically calls being placed through all carriers will bounce from the tower to improve overall service.

The tower is located off Cemetery Road on property owned by Selectman Evelyn Duncan. Duncan said she has signed a renewable 10-year lease for the tower at a cost of $540 a month. “There were only two spots in town [that the company thought would work] after a study was conducted,” said Duncan. “The other property owner, located by the town’s water tower, did not want a tower on their land. So, there was really only one location left.”

On July 8, work also began high up at the town’s water tower where US Cellular will put a mini tower also called a repeater, to help extend signal to the downtown area. The town has waived a lease fee for the US Cellular mini tower, Town Manger Kathleen Billings said, noting that the infrastructure will also help emergency responders.

In a week where the town had a large presence for both Independence Day and Stonington’s Lobster Boat Races, Billings, who has been working on getting commitments from local carriers for additional cell service in town for the last five years, said communication was a challenge. “You can’t just call someone and tell them to meet you or to bring something,” she said.

In 2014 a $25,000 grant from the Hancock County Commissioners helped to start the enhanced communications in town by providing the seed money to create a WiFi zone in the downtown area, and was then earmarked for use to increase cell service.