New AT&T Utility Boxes Spark New Group

Robert Broome and a group formed "in resistance to AT&T's placement of the huge [VRAD Project Lightspeed] boxes" and in particular the one at Highland/Hartzell have started a website, They plan to speak out at the Council meeting Mon. 9/22.

CSNA has not yet been involved either for or against the VRAD boxes, about 95 of which are in the works, spread around much of Evanston. See the City map of the installations for which permits have been OK'd. No CSNA member has previously brought this to the Board's attention or asked for us to take a position. But I thought it was of interest.

My opinion? None are planned for my frontyard or for that matter my backyard. NW Evanston seems to be getting its share, no more. But these boxes are about the ugliest civic "improvement" I've seen, and I am skeptical that cable bills will go down even a penny as a result of "competition." Considering that technology has made everything smaller, I was also shocked at their size, and feel real sorry for any homeowner whose parkway suddenly sprouts one. You'd think they would be mainly placed in or along alleys, or that the City would have made AT&T negotiate with commercial property owners who have a couple unused exterior s.f.

Click here to read the Roundtable article on the boxes (you have to scroll down the page).


For those interested in learning more about these boxes, there is a 17-slide PDF presentation on the City's website at

The City website attributes the arrival of the boxes to an Illinois Commerce Commission ruling granting AT&T a statewide franchise and barring municipalities from refusing to grant right-of-way access.

One wonders where the limits to that would be -- could the entire parkway of a street be converted to an array of various companies' equipment? -- and why Illinois is such a pushover. In Connecticut, the State took the side of homeowners, who complained that the boxes were property-value killers, and has ruled that AT&T has to get the consent of homeowners and municipalities before installation.

Here, AT&T is agreeing to spend up to $1500 on landscape screening (on at most 3 sides of the boxes) per residential-neighborhood install, but the City (i.e. you and I) will pay for landscaping on public property-abutting sites.

The idea of the boxes is to increase bandwidth for DSL Internet service and hi-definition cable TV. As such it gives AT&T a competitive edge v. Comcast. Complaints about the VRAD boxes, besides their intrusiveness, is that they are potential graffiti targets, and that at least 4 have exploded or caught fire, allegedly due to a defective battery system that's since been replaced.

Eleven residents lined up to speak out against the VRAD boxes at last night(9/22/08)'s city council meeting. Some themes noticed by me and brought by others:

  • These harm property values and cause a safety hazard. Realtors have stated that upon seeing a box, buyers will 'drive right on by'. Pretty frightening thought, when it's your biggest investment that's involved.
  • Some of these are being placed where they dominate the view from front rooms and front yards of single-family homes.
  • The size seems to everyone to be much larger than today's technology would require. Nobody is buying AT&T's assertion that these are actually necessary to implement service.
  • Other government bodies have placed restrictions on the project, such as requiring input and permissions from affected landowners, showing that it can be done.
  • The process of placing them, while carefully considered by the city, has been completely opaque to those affected. There seem to have been many opportunities to inform residents of Evanston about the impending invasion.
  • We are troubled by the image of a corporate-government deal that is made at the expense of, and almost completely without the knowledge the people, think that this sets a bad precedent.
  • The entire process, as described by those who explain it (and voted for it) shows the relative weakness of state and local governments when faced with a determined and well-funded corporate client. It reminded me of the corporate - government relationship that exists in some countries where bananas are the cash crop instead of cable tv revenues.
  • Per the Mayor last evening, the city gets paid 5 or 6% of the ongoing revenues for this, insuring a built-in conflict of interest. They get paid, we get hammered.