In 2005, AT&T announced a multi-billion dollar initiative to expand its fiber optics network deeper into neighborhoods to deliver a new suite of Internet Protocol services to approximately half of our customer households. The initiative uses fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) technologies in areas of new construction and fiber-to-the-node (FTTN) technology in areas where AT&T already provided residential telephone service. Using FTTN, the plan would on average bring fiber to within 3,000 feet of customers’ homes.
AT&T U-verse services are now available in more than 260 cities and counties across California and to several thousand municipalities nationwide. AT&T will soon be seeking the necessary government approvals to begin upgrading its network to provide U-verse services in San Francisco.
Paid for with private investment dollars and built with skilled, union labor, this upgraded network will provide San Francisco customers with a real competitive alternative to the local cable company for high speed internet services and subscription TV. It will spur innovation, improve quality and add consumer value. An IP based network will allow many new and exciting services to be offered that can bring more convenience and security to people’s lives.
How does the system work today?
Generally, most AT&T residential customers in San Francisco receive their telephone service through a twisted pair of copper wires that travel from one of our Central Switching Offices in the city to each individual household. In most instances, the copper wire travels from a central switching office to a neighborhood node called a cross-connect box. Hundreds of cross connect boxes are located throughout the City and County of San Francisco. These boxes are located in the public right-of-way and many have been in place for many decades. It is in these boxes that you often see our employees working to provision and repair telephone service. Each of these boxes serve a neighborhood of approximately 400 households and it is from these cross connect boxes that the copper twisted pair then travel to each individual home in the neighborhood.
What's new in the network upgrade?
With the network upgrade to a fiber-hybrid Internet Protocol network, AT&T will need to place an additional cabinet near SOME (not all) of the existing cross connect boxes. AT&T will then bring fiber optic cables to the new cabinet, most often using the existing underground conduit AT&T already has in place under the city streets. The new cabinets contain electronic equipment that translate the digital signal from the fiber optic cable to each of the individual copper pairs going to our customer’s homes. As part of the network upgrade plans, all of the individual lines will be conditioned, giving each household its own dedicated copper wire and also replacing any deteriorating cables in the process. In some cases, the existing cross-box may be replaced with a newer cabinet as part of the upgrade improvements. In addition, each cabinet is fed with commercial electric power and also contains back-up batteries should commercial power ever fail.
What government approvals must AT&T obtain to install these additional cabinets?
AT&T needs to obtain excavation permits from the City to place the utility cabinets necessary for the upgrade. The first step in the permit process is for the City of San Francisco Planning Department to review the upgrade under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). This state law requires cities to review the potentially significant environmental impacts of any discretionary permit. Many cities have determined that the installation of utility cabinets is categorically exempt under CEQA. Only three (in addition to San Francisco) of the over 250 California municipalities have reviewed the upgrade in depth under CEQA, and each determined that the utility cabinets are eligible for a “categorical exemption” from the full environmental impact review under CEQA. The categories of permits that are exempt are very narrow and include small utility cabinets, such as those AT&T needs to place in the right-of-way.
In 2008, the San Francisco Planning Department granted AT&T a categorical exemption. The decision was appealed by a neighborhood association which raised the aesthetics of the cabinets in the city right-of-way. Although the aesthetics of the cabinets in the right-of-way is not a criterion for denying a categorical exemption, AT&T withdrew its application in order to have more time to work with the San Francisco communities to find solutions to their concerns.
In response to community concerns, AT&T has revised the scope of its plans and filed a new CEQA application proposing fewer and smaller cabinets.
The Planning Department will again review AT&T’s plans under the narrow list of criteria provided by CEQA.
What happens after the CEQA Review?
It is important to note that even if the Planning Department determines that the excavation permits are categorically exempt under CEQA, AT&T must still request individual excavation permits for each of the proposed utility cabinets. The San Francisco Department of Public Works Surface Mounted Facilities Order requires public notice, time for public comment and the ability to appeal each individual permit. This means the City and community will still have opportunities for input regarding specific utility cabinets that may raise particular concerns. Thus, even with a categorical exemption under CEQA, AT&T cannot build any cabinets in the public right of way without an approved permit from the SFDPW.
What is the scope of the build?
AT&T’s application with the San Francisco Planning Department includes 726 potential sites across the city. These locations are spread throughout the city, in every supervisorial district. Each of these sites has a current AT&T cross connect box at the location. We are required to include the ENTIRE potential scope of the build in the CEQA application. Our current plan is to build as many of those sites as reasonably possible between 2011 and 2013.
Why 726 cabinets, and how does that compare tot he last CEQA application AT&T made in 2008?
In 2008, the San Francisco Planning Department granted a CEQA “categorical exemption” for approximately 850 new cabinets in the public rights-of-way. AT&T has closely reviewed the residential density of each neighborhood and was able to reduce the number of cabinets needed for the network upgrade.
What is the size of the cabinets and what do they look like?
AT&T heard the City’s concern regarding cabinet size. To better accommodate the City’s urban streets, AT&T has integrated the power supply meter into the cabinet, negating the need for an attached power panel at each site as was originally proposed and reducing the size of the proposed cabinet. The smaller cabinet size is approximately 48 inches high, 51.7 inches wide, and 26 inches deep. They are typically mounted on a concrete pad on the ground but can be mounted on poles in certain conditions.
What color are these cabinets? Can they be painted a different color?
The standard color when manufactured is a light tan, but can also be requested in light green. The cabinets are made of a graffiti-resistant polymer so they cannot be painted. They are only available in the two light colors because the cabinets house temperature-sensitive electronic equipment. Darker colors absorb and retain heat which can have an adverse effect on the equipment inside.
Can the cabinets be buried?
While the cabinets can be buried, that solution does not remedy the issue of minimizing disruption to the neighborhood. Due to the electronics inside the cabinet, AT&T must frequently access the utility cabinets.
The utility cabinets need to be placed above-ground not only because of the electronics inside the cabinets that require technician access, but also because the electronics require air cooling in order to prevent corrosion from moisture. Placing the equipment underground would require excavating an environmentally-secure underground vault, which requires a significantly larger space in the public rights of way that is free of other underground utilities (water and sewer pipes, power, etc.).
Even if space for large underground vaults was available, each vault requires an above-ground ventilation hood and an above-ground access hatch (39” tall, 83” wide and 54” deep), which are larger than AT&T’s new broadband cabinets. Additionally, underground vaults usually require a separate above-ground power unit and transformer box. Therefore, just the ventilation hood and access hatch alone for underground vaults actually require three times the surface footprint area than that of the new utility cabinets.
How will AT&T handle graffiti on the boxes?
AT&T’s new cabinets are made from a graffiti-resistant polymer that makes it easier to maintain. During the course of our normal network maintenance, AT&T technicians will proactively remove any graffiti found on any of the utility cabinets. Citizens can also report graffiti directly to AT&T by calling the number found on the box. It is best to have the closest street address or the address located on the cabinet available. AT&T is in the process of labeling our existing cabinets and will label all new cabinets with an identification sticker and phone number. In addition, we have established a process with the city to route any graffiti reports made through the city’s 311 system back to AT&T.
AT&T also supports the city’s efforts to curb graffiti, including their reward program. For information on the City’s reward program for graffiti offenders, go to: http://www.sf-police.org/index.aspx?page=657.
What about permits that AT&T already had in process before withdrawing their CEQA application in 2008?
AT&T has notified the San Francisco Department of Public Works that AT&T is withdrawing all permit applications related to placing cabinets for their IP-network upgrade and would be starting the process over to allow for better community participation.
Will AT&T provide any landscaping or screening around the boxes to soften their appearance?
AT&T is committed to integrating the new cabinets into the community through the use of landscaping and other greening techniques, as well as complying with applicable provisions of the San Francisco Municipal Code and Surface Mounted Facilities Order.
Input from residents and City staff will be factored in during the permitting process and AT&T will propose greening/screening landscaping where it would help integrate the new cabinet into the surrounding streetscape.
In some cases, the utility cabinet can be located where pre-existing foliage and landscaping exist to help “hide” the cabinet.
Where warranted and where it is possible, AT&T may plant shrubs, trees and use other landscape materials to minimize the visual impact. Where “greening” is not an option, we may use lattice screens, community signage and decorative bollards as other “screening” options. AT&T has retained the Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF) to assist us in these efforts. FUF has provided us with some suggested landscape drawings of how these sites could possibly be have their aesthetic softened through landscaping. You can look at these drawings here. If the new cabinet is located adjacent to an existing cross connect box, efforts will be made to screen or green both cabinets.
Finally, neighbors might also prefer greening and landscaping at a different location that is not directly in front of the cabinet. AT&T will also consider these options to help beautify the surrounding neighborhood when direct screening or greening is not an option.
How will I know if a cabinet is being located near my home or business?
AT&T is working with local neighborhood and merchants associations to communicate our buildout plans for each area of the city. We are conducting “site walks” prior to applying for permits in order to determine the best possible locations. Once a location is determined, under the SFDPW Surface Mounted Facilities Order, AT&T would be required to provide public notice for the permit location. AT&T has volunteered to expand the scope of this notification beyond just posting to mail notices to residents and property owners within 300 feet of the proposed location. Finally, when a permit is granted, AT&T will notify nearby residents 48 hours prior to construction starting that work will soon commence.
Do the cabinets make a sound?
The new cabinets house sensitive electronic equipment that is sensitive to temperature change and can be damaged due to corrosion caused by condensation. For that reason, each cabinet contains a cooling system of small fans that help provide an optimum temperature and humidity level inside the cabinet. These fans emit a small hum similar to an electric toothbrush. AT&T has done extensive sound studies to ensure this sound is minimal and within municipal ordinance noise regulation.
How is it determined where to place the new cabinets?
The new cabinets are an integral part of the AT&T global network. As such they are connected to other infrastructure, mostly underground. They are not like other street furniture in that they have a technological function and their location is incumbent upon placing the new cabinets where they can connect with the AT&T network and where they can be accessed using the public rights of way the city sets aside for utility use.
Public utility right of way and public utility easements are property, often owned by the local unit of government that has been set aside for the express use of public utilities and other public conveniences deemed appropriate by the local government. Public utilities including gas, sewer, water, cable, electric and telecommunications providers use this property to deploy the infrastructure necessary to deliver their services. AT&T, like other private companies, pay fees to the municipalities for the use of this land.
The new cabinets “attach” into the existing AT&T network at the cross connection boxes located throughout the city. As such, the new cabinets will always be in close proximity to an existing cross connect box. From a technological standpoint, the ideal location for the new cabinet is immediately adjacent to the cross connect box. But, the cross connect box can be located up to 300 feet from the new box. That means a radius the length of a football field from the existing cross connect box is the potential siting location for the new cabinet.
Because the new cabinets house both fiber and commercial electric service through underground cables, AT&T works cooperatively with the SFDPW who are the stewards of the public rights of way. SFDPW ensures that we do not place a cabinet in a location that conflicts with other public utilities (gas or water main, electric cables or even a Muni tunnel). SFDPW will also address siting concerns to make sure we do not build over major tree roots.
AT&T intends to conduct a neighborhood “site walk” even before we submit a permit application to the SFDPW. These “site walks” will help us look for appropriate locations that are aesthetically acceptable. Our first option will always be the public right of way adjacent to the existing cross connection cabinet. If this location will not work, we will look for other public land (not ROW) adjacent to the existing cabinet; our next option would be public ROW or other public land within 300 feet of the existing box. If none of these options are acceptable, we will consider private easement as long as it is technologically and financially feasible and access to the cabinet can be allowed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
In all cases, once the optimum location is selected, the AT&T Engineer will design the site and submit to SFDPW to work through their pre-permit process.
How is AT&T informing the community of its network upgrade plans?
In 2009, AT&T conducted community meetings in every district in the city to discuss its network upgrade plans. We have now begun additional outreach to individual neighborhood and retail merchant associations across the city. In addition, through this website, advertising, direct mail and through our AT&T retail stores we will be providing on-going information regarding our network upgrade plans. If you would like us to schedule a meeting with your neighborhood or retail merchants association, please contact Tedi Vriheas at 415-778-1221 or email@example.com.
How does the DPW permitting process work?
In addition to city ordinances and any applicable CEQA requirements, AT&T must comply with DPW’s Surface Mounted Facilities Order (“SMF Order”) requiring AT&T to:
- Restore trenches
- Comply with ADA standards
- Avoid conflicts with other utilities
- Keep traffic lines-of-sight unobstructed
- Keep driveways, other access points clear
- Keep new facilities 18 inches from the curb and behind sidewalk (where possible)
The DPW permitting process requires AT&T to post each cabinet location so the public will know whether a cabinet is intended to be placed near them. The public has 20 days to comment before DPW can determine whether to grant the permit. An appeal process is available for citizens who wish to appeal the location of any specific cabinet site. AT&T has volunteered to expand the public notification beyond what is required by city ordinance and department order to not only publicly post notice and mail notices to neighborhood associations, but also to mail notices to residents and property owners within 300 feet of the proposed location. DPW will not issue a permit until the Planning Department has determined whether or not AT&T’s network upgrade is exempt from CEQA review. To be clear, no construction can begin the public right of way without the proper excavation permit from DPW. Prior to construction, AT&T also voluntarily provides notice to all residents within 300 feet of the work.
When will AT&T begin applying for permits with the San Francisco Department of Public Works?
SFDPW will not grant any permits for this network upgrade until they go through the thorough “pre-permitting” process described in the answer to the question above. There are a number of San Francisco neighborhood organizations, tenants’ organizations and condo associations that have expressed interest in being among the first to receive this network upgrade. AT&T may begin the “pre-permitting” process prior to the CEQA determination in order to provide the public with examples of how the site selection process will work within a neighborhood. If AT&T opts to begin this “pre-permitting” process, we understand that we do so at our own risk should the CEQA “categorical exemption” not be granted. Under no circumstances will SFDPW issue a permit until that determination is made. If your neighborhood is interested in being part of one of these trials, please contact Tedi Vriheas at 415-778-1221 and her or firstname.lastname@example.org.