BOSTON (CBS) – Congressional leaders in Massachusetts are asking the Federal Communications Commission to “carefully examine” a project that would upgrade WiFi service along the MBTA’s commuter rail system.
The project, first revealed by the WBZ I-Team in June, would mean the installation of hundreds of 74-foot poles along every mile of track. The first 110 proposed locations would be rolled out on the north side of the metro area.
However, as affected communities have learned details about the project, opposition has continued to gather steam.
On Monday, Senator Ed Markey sent a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, asking for the federal agency to investigate the historic impact of the project. The letter is signed by the rest of the state’s congressional delegation.
“Right now, I don’t feel the proper balance is being struck,” Markey told the I-Team. “I want the FCC to look at it to make sure the historic nature of so many of these communities in Massachusetts is not impacted in a way that’s completely unnecessary and detrimental.”
The proposed structures would be installed along the MBTA’s right-of-way, which is exempt from local zoning laws. As a result, the only agency that has direct oversight of the approval process is the FCC.
“The communities are asking for more input and I think they deserve it,” Markey said.
An FCC spokesman confirmed the agency received the letter from the Massachusetts delegation.
“In terms of the project’s review, the FCC is working through the historic preservation process with the parties involved,” the spokesperson told the I-Team.
The WiFi contract was inked back in 2014. Awarded to inMotion Wireless (since acquired by an Australian company), the 24-year deal would allow the company to build the entire $140 million network at its own cost.
Basic service would be free for commuters, with a faster premium service available for a fee. The MBTA would receive 7.5% of the net revenue, according to the arrangement.
Elected leaders in a number of North Shore communities have told the I-Team they were caught off-guard by the WiFi project.
Medford Mayor Stephanie Burke said it has been a struggle to get more details about the monopoles proposed for her city.
“We really feel slighted at this point,” Burke expressed. “They haven’t been forthcoming with information. And to talk about 75-foot poles adjacent to residential homes in a neighborhood just isn’t acceptable.”
Ispwich homeowner John McTighe said he learned about the structure proposed for his backyard when the locations were posted online.
Like other North Shore communities, McTighe flew balloons 74-feet in the air to demonstrate how the poles would loom over the tree line. Along High Street, some of his neighbors’ homes have historic signs indicating they were built more than 300 years ago.
“It will look completely out of place,” McTigh said. “It’s at too much of a cost for towns and neighborhoods. I know there’s a better way.”
In response to the criticism, the MBTA announced in late June that it was hitting the pause button and launching a 30-day review of the WiFi project.
The topic is expected to be on the agenda at a board meeting next Monday.
Ryan Kath can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.