SPRING VALLEY, N.Y.-On a clear day, you can look south and see the Manhattan skyline from the landmark hilltop house of Steve Preston, who owns and leases towers for wireless transmissions. But Preston has his sights set north where he sees the chance for significant tower sublease income disappearing over nearby Jackie Jones Mountain.
In late 1991, Preston Communications Inc. received a signed contract from AT&T Communications Inc. in Atlanta authorizing the lease of Preston’s tower site high atop Jackie Jones Mountain. AT&T owns the site, considered a premium one because of its height and location in an area near to and facing New York City. Local zoning codes in Rockland County severely restrict tower placement.
Now, more than five years later, Preston has reams of paperwork-including side agreements, amendments, memoranda, his breach of contract lawsuit against AT&T and AT&T’s counter lawsuit against his company-but he has no tower access or sublease revenues from the contested AT&T site in dispute.
At the heart of the dispute is AT&T’s claim that it thought Preston was going to build an antenna site and resell extra space, while Preston maintains his strategy was only to act as a leasing agent.
Disputes between tower owners and tower users are not common, and none of this nature have been brought to the attention of the Public Communications Industry Association, said Bill Hart, public relations director for the Washington, D.C.-based trade group.
A 1991 contract authorizes Preston to place 900 MHz antennas for commercial and emergency paging and emergency voice services. Also on file with the court is a list of customers with whom-on the basis of the contract-Preston entered into tentative agreements as subtenants of his company on the AT&T tower site. In late 1993, AT&T issued Preston a written request for “a copy of the FCC license for each company that will be using your antennas.”
Last year, AT&T officials wrote to Preston that its standard tower attachment agreement contemplates that all licensees will own or co-own communications equipment attached to its towers, rather than serving as wholesale resellers of antenna space. In its counter suit against Preston, AT&T states it did not learn of the wholesale reseller nature of his business until April 1995 when it canceled his contract.
In conjunction with the cancellation, Preston accepted an AT&T refund check for $53,198, which included 21 percent interest on his initial $43,200 deposit.
In June, Preston filed charges against AT&T asking the state civil court to compel AT&T to honor the original contract and to prevent AT&T from directly contacting Preston’s prospective customers while Preston’s five-year license remains in effect. Alternatively, Preston seeks about $526,000 plus interest, costs and disbursements, according to the lawsuit.
In September, AT&T counter sued, seeking dismissal of Preston’s charges and $200,000 in damages from his company.
Earlier this month, AT&T offered Preston $15,000 as an out-of-court settlement, according to Jeffrey Weiss, Preston’s attorney. Preston has not decided on a further course of action. No judge has been assigned the case, nor has a hearing date been set, Weiss said.