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Is Anyone Happy About AT&T’s Utility Boxes?

For years, neighborhood activists have waged a campaign against plans for hundreds of new utility boxes to be placed throughout the city, complaining they would obstruct pedestrian traffic and become eyesores. AT&T, which has been working through the process for years and even has a website set up to answer questions about it (, says the new boxes enable it to roll out new high-speed Internet services to its customers across the city.

About 200 of the boxes have been installed so far, which is well below what AT&T had hoped to achieve by this point. In its online FAQs about the troubled project, AT&T wrote that it planned to build many of the 726 planned sites between 2001 and 2013.

With the process and the controversy dragging on, in May the Board of Supervisors passed a measure by District 8’s Supervisor Scott Wiener that seeks to highlight residents’ input and make AT&T use private property for the boxes where possible, use graffiti-resistant coverings, and give multiple options for locating each box. A week after passage of that bill, AT&T sued, claiming the city violated local and state law in the way it has rejected some of its applications for siting the boxes. The company has also said that Wiener’s measure violated state law.

The push to offer high-speed Internet services isn’t limited to AT&T or its big local competitor, Comcast. Google is slowly rolling out its Google Fiber service, which offers Internet speeds up to 100 times faster than typical broadband. It started in Kansas City, but when it expanded to other cities, it chose Austin, Tex. and Provo, Utah. The company also lists some potential future locations for Google Fiber, but none of them are San Francisco. (The closest it gets is the southern portion of Silicon Valley, the only location in California.) The Mountain View-based company notes that among the things that determine where it will extend its fiber service are “efficient and predictable permit and construction processes appropriate for a project as large as a Google Fiber network build.”

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