MANCHESTER – Residents and township officials are still waiting for the owner of a cell phone tower in the community to add more service carriers to it.
Township Business Administrator Brandon Umba provided an update to the governing body and the public during a recent council meeting.
Umba said recent action is leading to AT&T being authorized to be on the cell phone tower. “We are reaching out to Verizon. I spoke with someone today. They did send out an e-mail today and I will hopefully hear back from them. AT&T contacted us directly.”
Resident David Goldstein, who lives in Whiting, asked about T-Mobile service. “Will T-Mobile be on the tower? There are multiple vendors right? When is that happening?”
“We do not own the tower,” Umba stressed. “We own the property that it is on. Back in 2018 the township recognized that they needed additional cell service in the Whiting area. So, we put out a bid in order to have a cell phone company install a cell phone tower on our property.
“That cell phone tower was approved to Homeland Towers. Homeland Towers was then bought out by American Tower. Verizon was approved at the end of 2019 to be the anchor cell receiver company for the tower. They have yet to complete their install on the tower,” he said.
“They are the anchor and now AT&T has put in for it. The problem is that as we do not control the tower, we can’t advertise to put people on the tower. We can advertise for people for our water towers and other structures in the town but we can not authorize for advertisement for this cell tower because we don’t own it,” Umba added.
“We are continuing to push them to market it. The problems that I have found, American Tower seems to be a bit difficult for us to deal with. That is why we are reaching out directly with Verizon now. We were told directly that before Easter they would be live but they are still not live,” Umba said.
He noted that AT&T had contacted the township directly “‘We are going nowhere with American Tower. Can we just negotiate with you directly?’ Unfortunately, they can’t because we don’t own the tower. We worked with American Tower to get this contract to get it where it is today,” he explained.
Umba told Goldstein that T-Mobile would have to contact American Tower in order to get put onto the tower.
Another resident asked if members of the public should contact T-Mobile or if there was any way to help. Umba responded that “one of the things we did with AT&T and which I said to the public was that I was trying to set up this contract so that American Tower can go out and basically market and bring other cell phone companies onto the tower without basically needing township approval at all so they can speed up the process.”
Umba added, “what I suggested to American Tower is that you need to pay the township accordingly. It is $24,000 is what Homeland Towers contracted with our town to pay us for the first year and an escalator of 2.5 percent every year after that. They got a contract with Verizon for $34,000 so they are already making money. That was put into that lease agreement.
“When it was negotiated, it was negotiated based on the fact that they were trying to go low in order to say they would have an escalator every single time they added somebody else. This process with AT&T took so long to come up with an actual number to put AT&T on this tower, so say they are giving us $60,000. You have enough room to put five cell phone carriers on the tower. So, we said you don’t have to worry about negotiating with us go out and market it. You are paying us what we need to cover the cost of leasing the license,” he added.
Umba said, “we’ve gone back and forth and I was getting frustrated to the point of just wanting to get AT&T on the tower. We came up with a compromise. That is done. We still have to negotiate with them and get an overall price. That is the problem we don’t own the tower; we can’t market the tower. We can’t market it.”
“It is up to American Tower. It is essentially their tower,” Mayor Robert Hudak said in response to a resident’s inquiry about reaching out to T-Mobile.
Umba said “the only one who has been very receptive is AT&T who wants to go on the Whiting cell tower. I will continue to fight to make sure we can get as many carriers as we can on there but we are at their mercy,” Umba added.