attbox.jpgOpponents of a plan by AT&T to upgrade its network in San Francisco by installing hundreds of 4-foot-tall boxes around the city have filed a lawsuit to try to block the project from moving forward.

AT&T is proposing to install up to 726 of the boxes, which house its Lightspeed data transmission technology that would improve and expand its U-verse Internet, cable and landline phone service.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors narrowly voted 6-5 last month to exempt the project from the state’s usually lengthy environmental review process after AT&T pledged to only install 495 boxes at first before seeking further approval from supervisors to build the rest.

A coalition of community groups that appealed the environmental review exemption argued that the boxes would impede pedestrian traffic, inconvenience property owners and reduce the city’s aesthetic appeal, and are making the same arguments in the lawsuit filed Wednesday.

The suit was filed in San Francisco Superior Court by various community groups including San Francisco Beautiful, San Francisco Tomorrow, Dogpatch Neighborhood Association, Potrero Boosters Neighborhood Association and the Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association.

The lawsuit is asking for the environmental review to be done, with an injunction in place to prevent the installation of any boxes while the case is pending in court.

“We really don’t want to sue but are left no choice when the city refuses to uphold its own environmental codes and is about to give away our sidewalks for the benefit of a private company without any objective review,” said Milo Hanke, past president of San Francisco Beautiful.

“We want the U-verse technology in San Francisco, but we don’t want it on our sidewalks, we want it on private property,” Hanke said.

He said the opponents hoped to have a court hearing in the case within the next couple of weeks.

AT&T officials were not immediately available for comment today, but the company has pledged to work with neighborhood groups on where to put the boxes, which each serve about 400 households.

AT&T officials said after the board’s July 19 decision approving the exemption that the boxes would help bring better competition for cable service in San Francisco. Comcast is the only major provider of cable service in the city.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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