When AT&T asked the city's Planning Department for permission to put up the boxes, it was exempted from getting an environmental impact report on their effects. But the Cole Valley Improvement Association (CVIA), which represents a tony neighborhood near the psychedelic Haight-Ashbury district, appealed the department's decision. At a meeting of the city's ruling Board of Supervisors last July, where there were long line of voters speaking both for and against the plan, AT&T withdrew its proposal.
The carrier is working with the city on a revised plan and has no timetable for when it will submit that, AT&T spokesman Gordon Diamond said.
"We're eager to bring new choice to San Francisco and we're working as quickly as we can," Diamond said.
Complaints about the AT&T boxes are nothing new. (Nor are gripes about Verizon's fiber rollouts, which require the carrier to dig up some customers' yards.) Communities across the country have tried to halt or modify the installations. But given San Francisco's reputation as a high-tech mecca, the local fight creates some ironies. For example, one of the more contentious proposed cabinet sites is at a busy corner less than a block from the home of Craigslist, the popular Website that has shifted much of the world's classified advertising onto the Internet.
Opponents say they support the technology, just not the boxes. In fact, they suspect that with the fast pace of innovation, those boxes will be obsolete in a few years anyway.
"It's 21st century technology, but it's delivered in 19th century packaging," said CVIA President David Crommie, who said that even 19th century cabinets might prove more aesthetically appealing than the drab hulks AT&T wants to build. And if the boxes are needed, there must be places to put them other than the sidewalks, he said.
Not surprisingly, U-Verse has its backers. At the Board of Supervisors meeting, one IT professional said no one complains about building hospital emergency rooms in the city. "You make room for things that are important," he said.
A local pastor echoed the earlier fight.
"We went through this with Wi-Fi, and now we're back again with something else that will bring improvements," he told the Board. "We still have people who are not even wired yet because we didn't do the free Wi-Fi. ... The digital divide is wide enough as it is."
AT&T says it has no alternative to putting the boxes on sidewalks. Going underground would require a controlled environment for the boxes and an excavation as big as 20 feet by 10 feet to provide room for maintenance workers, Diamond said. AT&T asked people near proposed sites if they would rent out private property for them, and got no takers, according to the city. The carrier still believes it qualifies for the Planning Department exemption, but if challenges meant that it couldn't install a box in a particular area, those residents wouldn't be able to get U-verse, Diamond said.