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Shelburne selectmen to hear wireless Internet plan

SHELBURNE — An Ashfield man with a start-up Internet business will be meeting with the Board of Selectmen next month to discuss a proposal to set up a “fixed wireless” Internet service for people living within the unserved, rural Patten Hill district of Shelburne Center.

Christopher Gray, doing business as Hilltown Networks, has offered to become the Town Hall’s Internet service provider in exchange for being allowed to install high-speed Internet antennas on the Shelburne Fire Tower to provide wireless service to potential subscribers. To do so, Gray would use Memorial Hall’s new “middle mile” broadband connection, with an antenna to transmit the signal to equipment on the fire tower.

The fire tower on Mount Massamet is owned by the town, but the “cab” is staffed and managed by fire wardens from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). The cab also contains radio equipment for the town’s highway and public safety departments and has four box-shaped antennas on it.

“We would get free Internet,” Selectman John Payne told board members. “In exchange for (Gray’s) free services, he would be able to configure (equipment) on the fire tower. Our monthly $189 bill from Comcast would go away.”

Selectman Bob Manners said there are a lot of details to iron out. He said DCR would have to be contacted, since that department regulates use of the tower. He said he wanted more information about what would be installed on the cab top, and the weight of the antenna that would be mounted atop Memorial Hall in Shelburne Falls.

Mike Duffy, chairman of the town’s Technology and Cable Committee, said that board has met with Gray several times and has given its unanimous support of Gray’s plan for wireless Internet in Shelburne Center.

“This is a public service that he’s willing to do, at his own risk,” said Duffy. The antenna to go onto the roof of Memorial Hall weighs about five pounds and is a shoe box-sized white rectangle that Duffy says would have “no visual impact” atop Memorial Hall. “It will have no (adverse) impact on the town and potential advantages. He said the service would be lower-priced to subscribers than either high-speed satellite service or cellular data plans. Besides serving some rural residents with no service, Duffy said it may also interest cable subscribers who are looking for alternatives.

Gray has proposed similar Internet plans for Ashfield and Charlemont. In Ashfield, however, concerns have been raised about how multiple antennas would look on the historic Town Hall Steeple.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at: dbroncaccio@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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