Dozens of antennas coming to JP streets

September 12, 2008
By

JOHN RUCH

New cell phone company enters Boston

Dozens of tube-shaped, ground-level cell phone antennas—including 42 on new streetlight poles—will sprout across Jamaica Plain by year’s end as MetroPCS Communications enters the Boston market, the Gazette has learned.

NextG Networks will put up at least 183 antennas citywide under a five-year-old plan that included no local notice or input. The Boston Globe this spring wrote about NextG’s antennas in other communities, with no mention of the massive network coming to Boston’s streets and sidewalks.

The new poles, topped with roughly 4-foot-tall antennas, are already going up on Centre Street sidewalks—including in the main business district and near the Arborway in Pondside. Streetlights will be added to the poles, which will replace existing city streetlights under a rental deal with the City of Boston, NextG’s Robert Delsman told the Gazette.

As the Gazette previously reported, similar antennas have recently gone up atop NSTAR utility poles. Delsman said those are probably NextG’s antennas, though he said he did not think utility pole locations were planned for JP.

“Maybe there’s some confusion about what constitutes the neighborhood of Jamaica Plain,” he said.

It is unclear how many utility-pole antennas are on their way to JP.

NextG signed an antenna-installation deal with the City of Boston in 2003, and recently went through a long neighborhood-by-neighborhood approval process with the Boston Public Improvement Commission (PIC), Delsman said. PIC is an internal government commission that includes the heads of the Public Works and Inspectional Services departments.

It appears there was no local notification or meetings of any kind in JP or other neighborhoods. PIC meetings were apparently advertised in Globe and Boston Herald legal ads, according to City Councilor John Tobin.

The city press office confirmed that PIC is involved in the plan, but did not immediately provide any other information.

The Gazette learned about the antenna network only by questioning various officials after seeing the unmarked antennas being installed.

City Councilor Charles Yancey, who did not respond to Gazette interview requests, reportedly has called for a council hearing about the lack of community process on the antenna plan.

“One area where I would probably concur with [Yancey] is advertising [of the PIC meetings] should be done in local newspapers,’ Tobin said.

Delsman said NextG contacted various city councilors about its plans.
JP antennas

Delsman could not immediately provide the Gazette with a list of all antenna locations planned for JP. But several are already up.

The new poles are gray and do not match existing streetlight poles in style or height. The tubular antennas mounted atop them are also painted gray. Locations of those already installed include: 775 Centre St. near Monument Square; Centre Street at Orchard Street near the Arborway; and Centre Street at Spring Park Avenue.

The pole at 775 Centre St., in front of JP House of Pizza, is noticeably crooked.

They are all installed next to existing city streetlights and eventually will replace them. New streetlights will be installed on the antenna poles. The existing poles will be removed and returned to the City of Boston as spares, Delsman said.

NextG pays for the new poles, and will also pay rent and a “franchise fee” to the City of Boston, Delsman said.

The antennas atop utility poles are painted brown. NSTAR is renting utility pole space to at least three antenna companies throughout Greater Boston, including NextG, NSTAR spokesperson Michael Durand previously told the Gazette.

Locations of antennas mounted on utility poles include: Starr Lane near Centre Street; Carolina Avenue at Carolina Place; and Woodman Street behind St. Thomas Aquinas Church.

Similar antennas are reportedly going up around the city. Those in JP are installed by Maverick Construction, a Hyde Park contracting company. Maverick did not return a Gazette phone call. Maverick workers installing one of the antennas last month told the Gazette that it was for a cell phone/wireless Internet company, but said they did not know the name of the company.

Antenna network

California-based NextG is a “carriers’ carrier” that sells antenna service to companies that provide actual cell phone and wireless Internet service to customers.

The antennas going up in Boston are being built under a contract with MetroPCS, which provides flat-rate cell phone service. But the antenna network can also be used by other companies at the same time, Delsman said.

The “distributed antenna system” (DAS) pioneered by NextG uses many antennas installed near the ground, instead of the traditional giant cell phone towers. The DAS eliminates spotty cell phone service, which is sometimes blocked at ground level by buildings when broadcast from a high tower. And the DAS is a fiber-optic network with a much higher capacity than typical cell phone towers, Delsman said.

“The beauty of it is, you put coverage in areas where you know coverage is needed,” he said.

About a year ago, the Gazette observed workers testing cell phone reception on various JP streets, including locations where NextG has now installed antennas. At the time, the workers declined to explain the purpose of their work. Delsman said they were probably NextG testers.

Delsman said the antennas are “very low-power…many times below [government] standards for RF [radio frequency] exposure.”

NextG has already installed DASs in various Greater Boston towns, including Somerville, Chelsea and Cambridge. It also recently installed a massive DAS in Philadelphia.

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