AT&T Wants To Take The Easy Way Out

Many San Franciscans have waited a long time for utilities to move underground, at great expense of time and money to each homeowner who was lucky enough to have the utilities undergrounded in their neighborhood. The effort to underground utilities has made the city safer and cleared the skies of overhead wires.
Now AT&T would like to nullify that effort by “upgrading” their services and placing utility boxes above ground, in every neighborhood of the city. AT&T intends to upgrade its telecommunications network to a high-speed data transmission technology referred to as “Lightspeed.” In July 2007 AT&T posted flyers in the Inner Sunset neighborhood notifying residents of its intention to install above-ground utility boxes.

Subsequently the San Francisco Planning Department issued an environmental impact report finding that AT&T could move forward with its plans. AT&T immediately requested a permit from Public Works to begin installation. However, the permit was appealed by a neighborhood organization forcing a hearing before the Board of Supervisors. The Board will hear the appeal at its meeting on Tuesday, July 29th. The Board has the authority to deny the appeal or refer the matter back to the Planning Commission for review.

Jamie Court, president of the Santa Monica-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights wrote about this issue over two years ago on SFGate.

The League of California Cities, which opposes most of the bill, has even identified threats to real estate values if AT&T can bypass cities and lay down its new “light speed” Internet/video lines without asking permission. The League warns against the coming “crate on every corner”: a 5-foot-tall and 3-foot-wide metal cabinet installed above ground for every 362 potential customers for AT&T’s service.

This utility box is actually more like a refrigerator on every corner. Not only is it an eyesore, it’s an irresistible graffiti magnet, as demonstrated on existing boxes filmed by the league. AT&T boasts of technical expertise, but says it can’t make the boxes smaller or bury them. Without local control, tens of thousands of boxes are bound to wind up in all the wrong places.

Also in 2006, AT&T sued a group in Chicago who objected to the size and placement of these boxes as reported by

When a handful of Illinois cities balked at letting AT&T install similar boxes, the phone company sued.

“They are very intrusive,” said Steve Vinezeano, assistant village manager in Niles, Ill., a Chicago suburb that last month imposed a 180-day moratorium on box installations. “From the looks of it, they don’t really make any effort to cover them up. I’ve seen more substantial wireless equipment stored in vaults underground. We’re trying to protect ourselves from the eyesores.”

They’re not just eyesores, according to Stuart Chapman, an Illinois telecommunications consultant whose firm has clients in 10 states, including California. Because they’re installed near streets, the boxes — which he calls “an aesthetics nightmare” — could block motorists’ view of potential hazards.

Key points To Consider

  • This will have significant City-wide impact because AT&T has requested 850 boxes to be installed throughout the City
  • AT&T has noticed only 2 neighborhoods so far, the Inner Sunset and probably Ingleside
  • All boxes will be above ground and are large – bigger than the current utility boxes. (approx. the size of a pick-up truck bed)
  • There is no map showing all proposed locations making it difficult to understand the City-wide impact of the new installations
  • Other City residents and neighborhood organizations are unaware of this proposal because AT&T has not posted flyers in their neighborhood
  • Currently AT&T does little to keep its installations well maintained and graffiti free so additional, larger boxes, will only aggravate the situation. (please note graffiti on current box at 5th & Irving)
  • Other communication organizations, such as Verizon, have been willing to pay the additional costs to have their equipment installed underground

There is an appeal being made, at a board of supervisors meeting at City Hall on Tuesday, July 29th. Board meetings start at 2 pm. When the agenda is published you can get some idea of when the AT&T item will be heard. This is for the entire City – if the appeal is lost, other residents will not be able to protest the boxes because it will be past the deadline.


Updated Post: ATT is requesting to install 850 boxes, not 85.

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