MARLBORO — There is one fewer dead zone for cellular phone service on Route 9 this winter.
On Dec. 10, AT&T put into operation a 120-foot monopole cell phone tower on Town Hill Road in the center of town, not far from the junction of South and Ames Hill roads.
Anecdotal reports from cellphone users posting on the “Marlboro, VT Community FB Group” Facebook group say the new tower's coverage area is limited mostly to the Route 9 corridor.
The new tower is part of AT&T's five-year project called FirstNet, a federally funded effort to build a nationwide network to improve telecommunications for first responders, who “would have cell tower signal priority in the event of an emergency in the vicinity of Route 9,” according to Selectboard meeting minutes from March 28, 2019.
According to Owen Smith Jr., AT&T's Northern New England president, the tower, on Snow Mountain, is one of 36 slated to be built in rural areas on Vermont.
“FirstNet has allowed us to go to places we normally wouldn't go, places that weren't commercially feasible,” Smith told The Commons.
FirstNet put up a tower near Grace Cottage Hospital in Townshend in 2019, which filled in another dead zone for cell coverage in Windham County.
Smith said another tower is planned for the end of 2021 in Dummerston, and the telecom is currently working with Four Seasons Media, the owner of WTSA radio, to explore a tower replacement project at WTSA-FM's transmitter site at the Brattleboro town reservoir.
He said FirstNet worked with public safety agencies to identify the areas when cell coverage was most needed, but the expanded service will also benefit AT&T customers.
“Because of the terrain, Vermont is a tough place to provide coverage, but we're making progress,” Smith said.