Two cell carriers piggybacked on the city meter


When Rocco Graziosi, the project manager for Glen Cove’s Department of Public Works, discovered that the city had been subsidizing the utility payments of phone service carriers AT&T and T-Mobile for three decades, he was understandably shocked.

Last spring, Graziosi was working on an unrelated project when he saw the utility bills for the city’s two parking garages on his desk. He noticed that the electricity bill for the Pulaski garage was much higher than the one for the Brewster Street garage. The structures are roughly the same size, so he found it odd that Pulaski was apparently using some 200,000 kilowatts more electricity than Brewster Street.

Graziosi went to the Pulaski garage to investigate the discrepancy, and traced the cell tower wires that were installed there back to the city’s electric meter. When representatives of AT&T and T-Mobile conducted their own investigation, they confirmed Graziosi’s findings that, in fact, they were taking electricity from the city’s meter. It was ultimately determined that AT&T has been piggybacking on the city meter since 1995, and T-Mobile since 2010.

Graziosi said he was amazed that the city had been subsidizing the utility costs of two of the largest companies in the world for decades. “It really should have been AT&T and T-Mobile making these payments all these years,” he said.

Since the findings, Graziosi has been working with the cellular carriers to ensure separate and accurate meter readings, which will allow the city to properly bill them for their energy consumption. City Controller Mike Piccirillo estimated that the combined total is roughly $25,000 per year.

Since the carriers have been using city electricity since the inception of their cellular site agreements — which require cellular tenants to pay for their own electricity consumption — Piccirillo has been working with AT&T and T-Mobile to ensure that Glen Cove was reimbursed for the cost of their energy consumption that the city has covered. He negotiated an $85,000 settlement with T-Mobile in October, for costs dating back to December 2009 — well beyond the state’s six-year statute of limitations — and a $52,750 settlement with AT&T, payment of which he said is expected shortly, for amounts owed the city since 2018.

Piccirillo said that the city’s contracts with the carriers haven’t changed as a result of the findings, but when they are renewed, the city will add language to ensure that it is better protected going forward. Asked why the overpayments happened for decades, Piccirillo said he was unsure of the cause, noting that he was hired in 2020.

He speculated that the DPW, those in his position and those who worked on the licensing agreements at the time never questioned where the cell tenants were getting their energy.
“We’re working hard to ensure that this doesn’t happen anymore,” Mayor Pamela Panzenbeck said. “This is something that slipped through the cracks a number of years ago, and we need to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”