“Can you hear me now?” was Verizon’s catchphrase in one of that company’s best-known cell phone commercials. The answer to that question in many parts of East Hampton is, “No.”
The East Hampton Town Code is out of touch with federal law regarding cell phone providers and their need for antennas. It is costing the taxpayers of East Hampton money, and is wasting the time of the town’s planning department, which is basing decisions on an outmoded zoning code.
In 1996, Congress passed, and then-President Bill Clinton approved, a major overhaul of legislation regarding cell phone communication. It was the biggest change to federal communications law in over 60 years, a visionary change, foreseeing a time when we would all rely on cell phones.
Key to our modern communications era is the ability to get a signal.
At Iacono Farm, you can get fresh chicken and eggs, but you can’t always get a cell phone signal.
AT&T proposed putting cell phone antennas on the tower supporting the wind turbine that powers the farm. The planning board for the town objected, for various reasons, including aesthetics, and ultimately denied the application. They wanted the company to use the brush dump as a site for an antenna instead. AT&T sued in federal court.
Ultimately, AT&T agreed to use the brush dump as a site for its antenna, which the town is going to piggyback on for its emergency communications upgrade — a win-win, it would appear. However, AT&T is holding a big legal stick. The town must move heaven and earth to get that brush dump tower completed. Any sign that the town is hampering the project, the two sides have agreed, and AT&T can put its antennas on the Iacono tower, with the town having no ability to challenge that project.
The town has spent $25,000 in legal fees thus far, just to come to the same conclusion that a simple reading of the federal code would have provided. At the same time, the planning department is basing its recommendations to various boards based on a zoning code that is out of touch with federal law.
Roll up your sleeves, town board. There is work to do here.