attbox.jpgThe San Francisco Board of Supervisors decided today to delay for a third time a vote on a plan by AT&T to upgrade its network in the city.

The proposal calls for the installation of hundreds of 4-foot-tall boxes around San Francisco to house the company’s “Lightspeed” data transmission technology that would improve its Internet, cable and landline phone service in the city.

In February, San Francisco’s Planning Department gave the project an exemption from the usually lengthy environmental review process, but opponents–including San Francisco Beautiful and the Planning Association of the Richmond–appealed the exemption to the board, saying the boxes would impede pedestrian traffic, inconvenience property owners and reduce the city’s aesthetic appeal.

After a lengthy hearing on the issue in April, supervisors voted to delay a decision for a month while more study was done on the plan.

When the proposal came in front of the board again in May, AT&T asked for another delay and said it would be paring down the total number of boxes in the plan from its original figure of 726, and would work with individual supervisors to make the proposal more amenable to them.

When the plan came in front of the board for a third time today, Supervisor Scott Wiener asked for yet another continuance on the item.

Wiener said he had planned for a Land Use Committee hearing on San Francisco’s Better Streets Plan, which was passed last December to set unified guidelines for how the city designs, builds and maintains its pedestrian environment and would in part address the AT&T boxes.

Because budget talks had caused the postponement of the committee hearing, he asked for a delay until July 19 so that it could be held.

AT&T spokesman Lane Kasselman said, “We’re happy to help Supervisor Wiener do fact-finding” about the project and said the company “is hopeful next month that the supervisors will vote” in favor of the plan.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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  • DT

    Why not stick them in the middle of the bunches of newsracks that are already obstructing sidewalks?

  • DT

    Why not stick them in the middle of the bunches of newsracks that are already obstructing sidewalks?

  • Patrick Santana

    I applaud Supervisor Wiener for getting a continuance on the AT&T boxes until the Planning Committee meets and finishes the Better Streets Plan.

    I’d to share four points on the question of these 726 street boxes being proposed:

    1) Would SF allow this for a bank’s ATM network?

    If a company came to the city of SF and asking to install 726 Banking ATM machines as freestanding boxes on city sidewalks, the answer from citizens and government would be a resounding, “NO.” We would never let a commercial venture install 726 ATM kiosks in the middle of our sidewalks. I don’t hear any reasons why AT&T boxes should be treated differently than proposing 726 bank ATMs on public sidewalks. In terms of environmental impact, they are identical — and should be treated with an identical attitude.

    2) What’s good for the goose…

    Why is it economically feasible for one company (Comcast) to install boxes underground boxes for their network, yet AT&T “can’t afford” to do theirs above ground? AT&T stands to reap tens of millions of dollars from contract fees once installed. Nowhere has there been a clear answer why AT&T can’t do exactly what Comcast has done. Yes, Comcast spent millions installing their underground switches. Why should any other company be treated differently? Claims of “cost” need to be countered with the fact that this is a profit making business which should, by right, involve sizable investments in infrastructure.

    3) Don’t bless legacy technologies

    Granting public space to network boxes further commits San Francisco to a ‘wired’ technology that may or may not be relevant in 2040 or even 2015. Network technologies are constantly evolving. It’s possible that FIOS, satellite, or other spectrum wireless transmission will render obsolete “copper wire” tech (such as those used by AT&T’s street boxes) — though these sidewalk boxes will blight our streets in perpetuity. As a civic body, San Francisco should not be ‘blessing’ a particular technology (such as wireline internet) by granting public rights of way for its deployment. That’s shortsighted.

    4) 726 boxes are not small potatoes

    One hears the claim that San Francisco streets already have “10,000 utility boxes” on their sidewalks. This number is at best an unfortunate fact, I think we can all agree. But adding 726 more boxes is a 7% increase in that number. If anything demands a full environmental review, it’s an expansion ratio of 7%. This is not an inconsequential amount of additional street junk. Even 1% increase should trigger full environmental review.

    I hope Scott can stop AT&T’s wrongheaded request to use public space without full environmental review (and mitigation, such as using leased private space out of the public right of way). AT&T’s demand for exceptionalism, commitment to a legacy technology, and the volume of public space being taken here are mistakes San Franciscans should assiduously avoid.

    – Patrick Santana

  • Patrick Santana

    I applaud Supervisor Wiener for getting a continuance on the AT&T boxes until the Planning Committee meets and finishes the Better Streets Plan.

    I’d to share four points on the question of these 726 street boxes being proposed:

    1) Would SF allow this for a bank’s ATM network?

    If a company came to the city of SF and asking to install 726 Banking ATM machines as freestanding boxes on city sidewalks, the answer from citizens and government would be a resounding, “NO.” We would never let a commercial venture install 726 ATM kiosks in the middle of our sidewalks. I don’t hear any reasons why AT&T boxes should be treated differently than proposing 726 bank ATMs on public sidewalks. In terms of environmental impact, they are identical — and should be treated with an identical attitude.

    2) What’s good for the goose…

    Why is it economically feasible for one company (Comcast) to install boxes underground boxes for their network, yet AT&T “can’t afford” to do theirs above ground? AT&T stands to reap tens of millions of dollars from contract fees once installed. Nowhere has there been a clear answer why AT&T can’t do exactly what Comcast has done. Yes, Comcast spent millions installing their underground switches. Why should any other company be treated differently? Claims of “cost” need to be countered with the fact that this is a profit making business which should, by right, involve sizable investments in infrastructure.

    3) Don’t bless legacy technologies

    Granting public space to network boxes further commits San Francisco to a ‘wired’ technology that may or may not be relevant in 2040 or even 2015. Network technologies are constantly evolving. It’s possible that FIOS, satellite, or other spectrum wireless transmission will render obsolete “copper wire” tech (such as those used by AT&T’s street boxes) — though these sidewalk boxes will blight our streets in perpetuity. As a civic body, San Francisco should not be ‘blessing’ a particular technology (such as wireline internet) by granting public rights of way for its deployment. That’s shortsighted.

    4) 726 boxes are not small potatoes

    One hears the claim that San Francisco streets already have “10,000 utility boxes” on their sidewalks. This number is at best an unfortunate fact, I think we can all agree. But adding 726 more boxes is a 7% increase in that number. If anything demands a full environmental review, it’s an expansion ratio of 7%. This is not an inconsequential amount of additional street junk. Even 1% increase should trigger full environmental review.

    I hope Scott can stop AT&T’s wrongheaded request to use public space without full environmental review (and mitigation, such as using leased private space out of the public right of way). AT&T’s demand for exceptionalism, commitment to a legacy technology, and the volume of public space being taken here are mistakes San Franciscans should assiduously avoid.

    – Patrick Santana