by Rae Doyle
On May 24, in a 6-5 vote, the SF Board of Supervisors agreed with the SF Planning Commission's decision to allow AT&T to install 726 new utility boxes on public right-of-ways in San Francisco without an Environmental Impact Report. The new boxes would approximately double the number of AT&T boxes now in San Francisco. At present, the existing AT&T boxes provide phone service to individual homes through copper wires.
In order for AT&T to upgrade their service to provide telecommunication technology offering high speed internet access, advanced television and entertainment services, they need to feed signals through fiber optic cables into the existing boxes. In order to do this, they need to install a new box within 300 feet of the existing box.
Fiber optic cable will be brought underground into the new box which will house electronic equipment to convert the signal from the fiber optic cable to the copper wiring of the existing boxes and onto individual homes.
Last month, Alex Saleh, homeowner of 301 Kensington Way, was notified that AT&T proposed to place a new box on an easement on his property within a few feet of an existing box. Saleh had a few issues with this installation. He was concerned that the box would provide cover for criminals and present a safety risk for his family. He was also concerned about the aesthetics, since the existing box was poorly maintained by AT&T. Furthermore, he also felt that hosting one box on his property was enough and suggested that the new box be placed across the street on the Kensington Triangle property owned by SF Public Utility Commission.
Matt Chamberlain, president of the Greater West Portal Neighborhood Association heard of his dilemma and arranged a community meeting on Nov. 1 with Marc Blakeman, AT&T Regional Vice President of External Affairs, to discuss the neighborhood's concerns. Blakeman agreed to investigate the possibility of placing the box on the Kensington Triangle.
Chamberlain acknowledged that a number people oppose the box installations, but there are many who support the installations because it will result in better internet service and, perhaps most importantly, keep AT&T as a viable competitor to Comcast.
In 2008, AT&T attempted to deploy their new U-Verse service to San Francisco because of the population density in the City - but, because of public opposition, withdrew from San Francisco and rolled out their service to approximately 3,000 other United State cities, with little opposition.
Utility boxes similar to those proposed by AT&T are ubiquitous throughout San Francisco and are used to control traffic signals and for other utility purposes.
Blakeman explained that AT&T selects sites for their boxes, then posts a notice on a utility pole that is within 300 feet of the proposed site and notifies neighbors in that area by mail. People have 20 days to submit complaints or comments. If there are concerns expressed, AT&T will arrange for a meeting with neighbors at the site to discuss alternatives.
One very vigorous complaint about the boxes is that they are "graffiti magnets." Blakeman said that AT&T is required by the city to clean the graffiti on the boxes within 72 hours of a telephone complaint. "However," he said, "people just don't call to complain often." Taggers usually don't repeat graffiti at a site where it is cleaned up or painted over promptly, so the more aggressively it is controlled, the less graffiti an area generally gets.
The number to call for graffiti removal is posted on each utility box. For AT&T, the number is (866) 243-6122.
There are currently six AT&T boxes in the West Portal area - with six more proposed.
The existing boxes are located at 460 Laguna Honda Blvd., 301 Kensington Way, 199 Merced Ave., 125 Taraval St., 701 Vicente St., and 299 Wawona St. The proposed boxes would be located at 500, 1501, and 1253 Portola Dr., 120 Juanita Way, 410 Laguna Honda Blvd., and 2 Miraloma Dr.
View AT&T Utility Box Locations in West Portal in a larger map
Chamberlain said that he recognizes the value of GWPNA as a liaison between the community and AT&T and as a liaison between the factions supporting and opposing the AT&T box installations.