Proposed MBTA WiFi Towers
- To share your thoughts and concerns on this topic, please email us.
- You can also write to elected and public officials about the proposed MBTA WiFi towers.
- Visit our media page to view MBTA publications, press coverage, and updates from the Board of Selectmen.
- For details on proposed WiFi tower (monopoles) locations, visit our Proposed Monopole Sites page.
Latest News - August 10, 2017
MBTA Wi-Fi Project, as Currently Proposed, Will Not Advance
Overview from the Board of Selectmen
In an effort to improve WiFi service on its trains and provide other telecommunication enhancements through a contract with a private vendor, the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) proposed the installation of 70-foot monopoles (plus 4-foot antennas) along the commuter rail tracks. In all, some 320 towers were proposed in 80 communities. Up to four towers would be located within the Town of Manchester, with three known locations: the track crossing at Boardman Avenue, behind 6 Tucks Point Road, and at the train station behind the old electric company building. The fourth location would be in the general vicinity of the Ledgewood Circle/Plum Hill area.
Although the Selectmen were never formally notified of these proposals, in June 2017 the Board became aware of the potential impacts and began efforts to alter the plans. We felt the Town was put in a position of playing catch-up to a process that was not very transparent. Compounding the situation was the apparent exemption the MBTA has from local permitting, with the exception of wetland impact review which has a narrow focus. However, the towers are subject to review under Section 106 of the National Preservation Act, which review must conclude that the towers will not adversely impact historical assets before a federal permit for the FCC-regulated towers can be issued.
The Town of Andover was quick to organize against the project and we followed their lead. The Town’s Historical Commission, the Selectmen and many Manchester citizens sent letters to the Commonwealth demanding a more detailed analysis of the visual and other impacts the towers would have on our historic district before proceeding. We also provided testimony before the MBTA Finance Management Control Board, requesting that they halt the project in order to first undertake a thorough review of the finances, the technology and the overall efficacy of the project. This effort succeeded and a 30-day assessment of the project followed. A subsequent August 10, 2017 press release announced that the MBTA notified the project contractor it would not approve the proposed implementation of 70-foot monopoles, citing concerns among members of the public as well as federal and state legislators regarding the project’s impact on historic sites and community character. (A big “thank you” is due to residents who took the time to engage – the fact that the MBTA reversed course here is a testimony to the power of people speaking up!) The MBTA did, however, invite the contractor to submit a new plan for a more modest project involving “short monopoles” or “existing light poles” to provide Wi-Fi, with only “excess space” available for lease to third party communication providers. The original proposal would have doubled the size of every pole (and installed an extensive fiber network) for the purpose of creating infrastructure to lease.
While the recently proposed project will not go forward, it is likely to return in another form as noted above. It will be important to continue to monitor the project as it undergoes revision to ensure that proper procedures are followed and that the revised version is acceptable. Seven North Shore communities including Manchester banded together in an effort to highlight flaws in the original procurement process. We believe these flaws still must be corrected if the project is to go forward even in a scaled back version. The seven towns’ concerns are outlined in an August 10, 2017 letter signed by Attorney and former State Supreme Court Justice Robert Cordy and addressed to MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board Chair Joseph Aiello.
As efforts continue to ensure that this project does not negatively impact our historic sites and community character, updates will be posted here with detailed information and backup documents on the related media page. Your continued engagement is encouraged – write to state and federal officials, attend future MBTA Control Board meetings, and send your suggestions to the Selectmen. Together we can drive the project to a more positive outcome.