SAN FRANCISCO
11/16/2011 10:01 pm ET

AT&T Utility Boxes Blocked In San Francisco By Judge's Ruling

San Franciscans hoping for an end to Comcast's cable monopoly in the city will have to wait at least a little while longer.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Harold Kahn ordered a stay of AT&T's plan to install the up to 726 utility boxes necessary to implement its "Lightspeed" program offering cable television, Internet and phone service.

"There is a reasonable possibility that the AT&T utility boxes will have a significant effect on the environment due to...the large number...of such boxes that may be installed," wrote Kahn in a decision handed down earlier this week.

In July, the Board of Supervisors approved a move by the Planning Department to exempt AT&T's plan from having to go undergo a lengthy environmental review.

A coalition of neighborhood groups led by San Francisco Beautiful filed suit against the city, hoping to block the installation of the mini-fridge-sized boxes on the grounds that they would block sidewalks and attract graffiti.

SF Appeal reports:

In 2005, Department of Public Works chief Ed Lee (what ever happened to that guy?) instituted a policy dictating that this type of equipment only be placed on city streets when locating it elsewhere proves technically or economically infeasible, which AT&T attests is precisely the case.

The company insists that if the boxes were to go underground, each would need to be installed inside a 10-square foot concrete room and still require attendant above-ground equipment. Not only that, argues the telecom giant, but the construction work required to place the boxes underground would be even more of an inconvenience and eyesore than the boxes themselves.

The Board of Supervisors allowed AT&T to avoid the type of time-consuming environmental evaluation that famously tied up San Francisco's bike plan for over a year largely due a deal where the telecom giant agreed to give each individual supervisor the right to contest the location of boxes within his or her district.

However, these concessions weren't enough to satisfy opposition groups.

"We really don't want to sue, but we are left with no choice when the city refuses to uphold its own environment codes and is about to give away our sidewalks for the benefit of a private company without objective review," former San Francisco Beautiful president Milo Hanke told the San Francisco Chronicle.

San Francisco is the only major city in the county without access to Lightspeed or its predecessor, U-verse. The AT&T has made numerous attempts to penetrate the San Francisco market with this service since 2007.

"Despite today's decision to issue a temporary stay, AT&T believes it ultimately will prevail in the litigation and it remains committed to bringing San Francisco a next generation IP network," AT&T Revional Vice President Marc Blakeman said in a statement to SF Citizen.

There are already over 1,000 similar utility boxes on sidewalks all over San Francisco.

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