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Broadband expansion sought in Franconia

January 13, 2021
FRANCONIA — Citing the need for expanded broadband in the area, Iron Furnace Brewery has applied for a site plan review with the Franconia Planning Board.

At a public hearing held on Dec. 29, brewery owner and Mountain Top Telecom Vice-Chair Tim Clough told the Planning Board that an existing dish mounted on the back of the building was no longer sufficient enough to meet demand. The construction of a standalone 44-foot meshed tower would provide a better line of sight to Mountain Top Telecom's Cannon Mountain signal.

According to meeting minutes, Clough said relocating the dish to a new tower would provide four times more bandwidth to the area. Mountain Top Telecom recently received a grant to fund much-needed equipment upgrades.

Clough informed the board that without the construction of a new tower, the non-profit could not welcome new customers because it had neither the bandwidth nor the equipment to support such growth.

According to board member Mary Grote, new regulations from the State of New Hampshire and the Federal government indicated that telecommunications towers less than 150 feet in height no longer required planning board approval. Despite her statements, board members voted unanimously to approve the site plan review application.

Clough first approached the Franconia Zoning Board last summer. If there had been a quorum at the Zoning Board's Oct meeting, his setback and height variance requests would have been approved. However, the fall zone remained unresolved.

At 44 feet, the tower exceeds the town's zoning height limits. The legal fall zone for telecommunications towers is 125 percent of the tower's height. Franconia Fire Chief Allan Clark said the required 55-foot fall zone was an issue for the tower's proposed location.

Lafayette School Principal Gordi Johnk stated that the school could shift to remote learning at any point and needed the best possible broadband accessibility.

He said, "It is safe to say that the school is encouraging what is best for the town."

Planning Board members approved the proposed telecommunications tower with conditions. Clough was informed that he needed to obtain the necessary variances for the setback, height restriction and fall zone from the Zoning Board before proceeding.

According to Selectman Eric Meth, if the tower is approved, it will improve connectivity for all current users.

At last week's Select Board meeting, he said, "The hope is that it will increase the number of wireless users in Franconia and Sugar Hill."

Martin Lord Osman
Town of Brookfield
Town of Brookfield
Varney Smith
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