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Board approves wireless towers

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Will open schools up to broadband

By John Barnhart

A unanimous vote by Bedford County’s supervisors, Monday night, cleared the way for three Bedford County schools to get broadband.

    According to Jonathan Yates, representing Conterra Ultra Broadband, 14 Bedford County schools were able to get broadband service via existing fiber connections. The schools had to use microwave transmissions, which require the transmitting and receiving dishes to be in a line of sight, to connect the others. In order to do this at Boonsboro, Body Camp and Huddleston Elementary schools, the schools have to erect towers.

    The increase in bandwidth will be dramatic for these schools. The current Internet connections give them a speed of 1.5 megabits per second. The new connection will give the schools 100 megabits per second.

    A parabolic dish at the top of each tower will receive a microwave signal and transfer it to the school via a coaxial cable. The towers must be near the school being served because the cable can be no longer than 450 feet, according to company representatives. Beyond that, the signal will be too degraded to be reliable. Inside each school, the signal from the coaxial cable goes into a modem and is sent out over the school’s existing ethernet local area network.

    The height of the towers will vary. The tallest, at Boonsboro, will be 111-feet tall. Body Camp will have a 75-foot tower and Huddleston’s tower will be 80-feet tall. The varying heights are needed to meet the line-of-sight requirement for the microwave transmissions. The transmitter sends out a beam which is aimed at the receiver’s dish antenna and the alignment of the transmitter must be precise.

    The poles will be gray, unpainted concrete and have no external lighting. There is no ground equipment.

    In addition to being located away from areas frequented by the schools’ children, there will be no external equipment.

    “The kids will not be able to climb up that pole,” said Yates in response to a concern raised by District 7 Supervisor Gary Lowry.

    The tower at Huddleston will be moved 9 feet from     the   location     that   Conterra originally proposed when the matter came before the planning commission late last year. Norman Corbitt, who lives next to Huddleston Elementary, said, at that public hearing that the tower’s proposed location would make a visual eyesore from his front porch.

    Yates said that a company representative went to Corbitt’s home the day after the planning commission meeting and Cobitt picked out a spot for the tower that satisfied his concern. The move allowed it to be screened by some 50-foot trees which reduced its visual impact.

    “It was based on the meeting with Mr. Corbitt,” Yates said, explaining the move.

    Corbitt said, at the planning commission meeting, that his wife’s family was partially responsible for the school being where it is in the first place. He said his wife’s grandfather donated land to the county to build a school in the late 19th century.

    The supervisors unanimously approved all three towers. District 1 Supervisor Dale Wheeler was absent.

    In other business, Susan Crawford, the county’s director of fiscal management, told the supervisors the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is requiring the county to change the way it handles pay for people appointed to various boards.

    County Administrator Kathleen Guzi, amplifying Crawford’s remarks, said that the county has treated these board members as contract employees. Members have received a Form 1099. The IRS is requiring them to be paid as employees, be processed through the payroll system and receive a W2.

    “So, it’s basically semantics,” commented District 5 Supervisor Steve Arrington, “Six of one and half-a-dozen of the other.”

    One difference is that these board members had to pay both the employee and employer portion of the Social Security tax. Now, the county pays the employer portion.

    Another difference is that the board members were paid by the meeting. The supervisors agreed to pay them a flat monthly salary.

    “I’m very happy to go with a flat monthly payment,” said District 2 Supervisor Chuck Neudorfer.

    Board Chairman John Sharp noted that attendance at meetings won’t become a problem. He said that the supervisors can take action if an appointed board member fails to attend meetings.

    The supervisors unanimously approved the change.