VERNON -- In VTel's quest to spread its wireless-broadband service across Vermont, the company has met stiff resistance in some areas.
But that was not the case this week in Vernon, where fewer than 20 people turned out to hear about the Springfield company's plans to build a 90-foot-tall tower on a Pond Road property.
There were concerns about property values and aesthetics expressed by a few in attendance at the public forum hosted by Vernon Planning Commission. But overall, Burlington-based attorney Elizabeth Kohler, who was representing VTel, faced no hostility and said she is hoping for local affirmation of the tower proposal.
"We want the town's support before we go to the (state) Public Service Board," Kohler said during a meeting Monday night in the basement of the town office.
VTel has received federal and state backing to install wireless-broadband antennas throughout Vermont. These sites initially will provide access to high-speed, wireless Internet, not traditional cellular service.
"This is an Internet connection for Internet-capable services, including cell phones," Kohler said.
That Internet connection will compete directly with more traditional Internet providers such as Comcast.
VTel is touting the portability and convenience of its broadband service, with Kohler telling Vernon attendees that "your laptop, your smart phone will work anywhere where the coverage is."
The company also is promoting the wireless connection's speed. In a filing with the town, VTel Wireless says its "signal quality for wireless service near the (tower) facility will permit 25 mbps (megabytes per second) for uploads and 10 mbps for downloads, with the potential for rates up to 50 mbps."
The company also has said the Vernon tower could reach 1,200 homes and businesses in Vernon and surrounding areas. Kohler said the Pond Road site would link with "contiguous coverage areas," adding that the company's coverage objectives are the biggest factors in choosing a tower's location.
"A lot of things have to come together to find a site and make it work," she said.
In fact, not all of those things have worked in VTel's favor at 407 Pond Road. Kohler acknowledged that some aspects of her presentation on Monday were no longer accurate because VTel is looking to shift the location of its proposed tower.
"In this process, we've identified that there are flood zones in this area," she said. "So we are in the process of trying to find an alternative location on this property."
Regardless of where the tower is situated on the Pond Road parcel, some raised concerns about its aesthetic impacts. Selectboard Chairwoman Patty O'Donnell was one of those who questioned the need for VTel to build a new tower.
"There's a big switchyard right by the (Vermont Yankee) plant," O'Donnell said. "Why can't this be located there?"
She added that, with the recent announcement that the nuclear plant will cease operations, Vernon residents may be more sensitive to anything that might affect the worth of their homes.
"Everybody right now in our town is a little nervous about what our future's going to be and what our property values are," O'Donnell said.
Kohler responded by declaring that "a lot of thought went into, why here? And why this site?"
VTel looked into placing its broadband antennas on existing towers and structures, but "none of those worked to give us the coverage we need," she said.
When designing the proposed Pond Road tower, Kohler added, "we really have already given a fair amount of thought to mitigating the aesthetic impact."
She listed some examples to back that point, including:
-- While the tower can't be below the tree line, Kohler said, its proposed height does not require lighting or guide wires.
-- The relatively thin pole will be fitted with "flush-mount" antennas, she said, "so we have a very narrow profile."
-- The pole also will be "a nonreflective gray ... so it will not reflect light," Kohler said.
-- When the tower's location is finalized, the company also will commission a so-called balloon test, wherein a consultant floats a balloon 90 feet above the property and drives nearby roads to note its visibility.
That test will be advertised in advance.
"If you miss the balloon, photos are taken from wherever it's visible," Kohler said.
Aesthetic and economic-impact concerns have dogged VTel in some towns including Wardsboro and Newfane, where the company's initial tower plans attracted opposition.
But broadband advocates have argued that access to high-speed communications is essential for economic growth. That was the sentiment among some in attendance at Monday's meeting in Vernon.
"It seems to be that this would enhance communication ability and actually, maybe, improve people's property values," said Steve Skibniowsky, who sits on the Vernon Planning Commission and is a lifelong resident of the town.
"You can live as Vernon used to be, or you can move into the future," Skibniowsky said.
O'Donnell added that, "for economic development, we have to have broadband in our town."
In the end, support or opposition by O'Donnell and other town officials is a largely academic matter for VTel's plans. The company needs only a permit from the state Public Service Board to move forward with a tower.
Kohler, however, said the company is asking for the town's blessing and will consider local suggestions. After notifying a municipality of its plans, VTel must wait 45 days before applying to the Public Service Board.
"That's the time frame we're in right now," Kohler said.
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.