Stowe, AT&T strike deal to boost cell coverage in historic district

As cell service continues to lack in Vermont, one town works with a provider to maintain the charm of the town while improving service.
Published: May. 31, 2023 at 5:40 AM EDT
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STOWE, Vt. (WCAX) - As cell service remains spotty in many parts of the Green Mountains, the town of Stowe is working with AT&T to maintain the charm of the town while improving service.

In a rural state like Vermont, preserving the natural beauty can often be at odds with development and technology.

“We want to maintain the best of Vermont in general -- and Stowe in particular -- as we move forward into the 21st century,” said Stowe Town Manager Charles Safford

A town like Stowe might not be the first place when you think of poor cell service but the demand swells multiple times of year as tourists flock to the area. “It wouldn’t surprise me at a given time if we have more than 10,000 visitors in Stowe between second homes and folks just come in for a day trip,” Safford said. He said it’s common for people’s phones to show bars of service but not work.

AT&T proposed a smaller range cell tower to increase connectivity in Stowe’s historic district. After back and forth with the Historic Preservation Committee and the town, the groups agreed on a tower that matches the lamposts with concealed antennas, as opposed to adding height on top.

“It does take a lot of work to think it through thoughtfully. So, a lot of times those telecommunication carriers are approaching us about how best to do that and so we definitely welcome that conversation,” Safford said.

Statewide, Department of Public Service director Jim Porter said the majority of cell tower petitions do come through uncontested. They get around 20 a month ranging in coverage size, from adding antennas on existing structures to slightly larger towers to the standard large coverage cell tower. He says it’s the larger cell towers that tend to receive the objections. “It’s very important that their town plans are written in such a way to kind of very clearly convey what plan they have for their areas and what areas are more sensitive,” said Porter.

But as in the case of Stowe, compromising on the location and the aesthetics can help move projects forward. Porter said in Granville, for example, a large-size tower is proposed but the location has been altered to make residents happy. “It’s only visible from one residence, and so from an aesthetic perspective, it’s almost perfect. Right now what’s going on is an analysis of wildlife habitat to see if it will have any effect on that where it’s currently proposed,” said Porter.

A plan proposed by the governor to use data to inform adding more cell towers to the state has not been funded by the Legislature for two sessions in a row.

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