Showdown shaping up over AT&T utility boxes

May 23, 2011 7:07:50 PM PDT
There will be a showdown on Tuesday between AT&T and some community activists in San Francisco. AT&T wants to upgrade some equipment, but opponents say what they're proposing is blight.

AT&T says big utility boxes represent the most significant upgrade in the 100-year history of its operations in San Francisco. The telecommunications giant has a handful in place and now wants to install another 726 U-verse utility boxes throughout the city.

"We'll be able to offer faster Internet speeds, better telephone service and a competitive product to compete against cable and satellite," said Marc Blakeman from AT&T.

So why did people protest on Monday? They represent a coalition of groups like San Francisco Beautiful, the Sierra Club and the Neighborhood Parks Council.

"Let's have beauty, not boxes," said a speaker at the protest.

They say the boxes would congest sidewalks, clutter open space, and invite graffiti. They want the technology installed on private property or underground.

"You could wake up one morning and find one of these in front of your house and there's nothing you could do about it," said Milo Hanke from San Francisco Beautiful.

But AT&T is promising neighborhoods that don't want them, won't get them.

AT&T has already installed utility boxes in 260 California communities including most in the Bay Area. San Francisco is the only major holdout.

The San Francisco planning department has decided the project is good to go, but the critics say it deserves more scrutiny in terms of an environmental review. Monday, they went door to door lobbying city lawmakers who will vote on Tuesday whether to okay the planning department's decision.

"I think it's fantastic," said Supervisor Sean Elsbernd. He wants the AT&T upgrades. "If it took taking all 700 of these boxes and putting them just in my district to provide it for the rest of the city, sign me up. I'll do it."

Supervisor John Avalos is leaning the other way.

"Last year we said that people couldn't sit and lie on our sidewalks, but were going to have these boxes sitting and lying on the sidewalks, doesn't make a bit of sense," said Avalos.

This is the second time in three years AT&T has tried to get approval.


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