February 2014

City Logs 2,000 Objections to AT&T U-verse Boxes

Keith Burbank

San Francisco’s Department of Public Works registered 2,000 objections to the installation of AT&T U-verse boxes on City sidewalks last year. That’s 80 percent of the total number of objections to permits the department received in 2013, according to Lynn Fong, DPW. Fong reported the statistics at an informational hearing held by the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee last month.

“That’s an avalanche of objections,” Fong told the committee. Still, the citizen protests don’t seem to be enough to trigger a clause in the City’s memorandum of agreement with AT&T that stipulates that enough objections would prevent the company from installing their boxes on San Francisco sidewalks. In a response to a question from District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener about what amount of opposition would be enough, Marc Blakeman, regional vice president, external affairs, AT&T, said that each box can serve up to 500 people, with only as many as 20 complaints about each installation.

“Four hundred and eighty are silent,” Blakeman said. He wouldn’t say what AT&T’s share of the telecommunication market is, calling that information proprietary. Despite its capacity, each box could be serving only 20 people. “It’s the fact that you now have an option,” Blakeman said. “That’s empowering to a consumer.” He added that people are asking AT&T when the service will be available in their area.

AT&T reported that it exceeded its hiring goal of 50 San Franciscans for jobs as technicians, recently employing 150 new technicians and 10 managers. It now has three garages in the City. The company plans to hire another upwards of 100 people during the first quarter of this year.  At least one third of those jobs will go to San Franciscans.

Roughly 80 people shared their thoughts about the AT&T rollout during the hearing’s public comment period, with many opposed to the installations. A few supported the project. Craig Issod spoke on behalf of people who want the service. “I too don’t want San Francisco blighted,” he said. But that would mean he doesn’t want electricity or Muni, he said. Issod doesn’t have U-verse service in his neighborhood, but he plans to sign up when it’s available.

According to Tony Kelly, a candidate for District 10 Supervisor, AT&T has demonstrated a lack of willingness to work with communities. “We want the box to be on the sidewalk because it’s more convenient for our workers,” Kelly said an AT&T worker told him about an installation at 22nd and Wisconsin streets. That comment, Kelly said, “really poisons the dialogue.” Other hearing attendees said AT&T is reluctant to look for alternative sites for the boxes. Kelly said the City should facilitate placing boxes on public land when possible.


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