Judge Blocks San Francisco U-Verse Expansion

Published December 20, 2011

San Francisco consumers will have to wait indefinitely for AT&T U-verse service after Superior Court Judge Harold Kahn ordered a stay of the city’s approval to allow the company to expand its rollout of the Internet protocol television technology.

The city had granted AT&T approval to install 726 U-verse boxes in public rights of way, but a lawsuit filed in August by neighborhood associations raised environmental concerns and complained the IPTV boxes—each roughly the size of a small refrigerator—would present an eyesore.

In November Kahn ruled installation of the U-verse pedestals must be put on hold until the city conducts a comprehensive study about their environmental impact.

Last City Without U-verse
AT&T designated San Francisco among the first cities in California to receive U-Verse, a service providing TV, Internet, home wireless, and residential phone service, in 2007. City planners at that time determined an environmental review for placement of the U-verse boxes in public rights of way wasn’t necessary, but swift opposition from neighborhood groups prompted AT&T to withdraw its application in 2008.

AT&T reapplied for its U-verse rollout in 2011, and was granted approval by the San Francisco City Council. While Kahn’s ruling will likely result only in a temporary delay of U-verse expansion in San Francisco, it’s a setback for the telco, which has gained momentum in subscriber growth for the IPTV-based service. AT&T reported month it had picked up 176,000 U-verse customers during the third quarter of 2011.

“San Francisco is now the state’s last major city without U-verse,” wrote reporter Patrick Hoge in the San Francisco Business Times.

Negative Impact on Competition
Kahn’s ruling is good news for incumbent San Francisco cable provider Comcast, which won’t have to compete with U-verse TV pricing until AT&T is allowed to resume expansion in San Francisco.

“This is a local matter which one would hope would result in more, not less, competition,” said Mike Wendy, director of MediaFreedom.org, a Washington, DC-based think tank focusing on telecommunications and information technology policy issues. “It is hard to see how U-verse pedestals could have any adverse environmental impact, but, if this is the way the locality wants to bring the 21st Century to its doorstep, then so be it.

“I would not choose to live there,” he added. “But if I did and if I felt this court decision was intolerable, I’d do one of two things: move, or work to elect new judges. Thankfully, those rights are still available to us here in America.”

Wendy concluded, “One hopes the study will be conducted quickly and result in more competition. The citizens there deserve no less.”

Phil Britt ([email protected]) writes from South Holland, Illinois.

Internet Info

“Judge Halts AT&T U-verse Box Installations in San Francisco,” Patrick Hoge, San Francisco Business Times, November 11, 2011: htttp://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/news/2011/11/15/judge-halts-att-u-verse-box-installs.html