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The Internet Communications Hardware

Telecom Rollouts Raise Ire Over Utility Boxes 284

Posted by Soulskill
from the price-of-progress dept.
Anti-Globalism points out this AP story, which notes: "As cable and phone companies race to upgrade services or offer video for the first time, they're doing it by installing equipment in boxes on lawns, easements and curbs all over American neighborhoods. Telecommunications rollouts have always been messy, but several towns and residents are fighting back with cries of 'Not in my front yard!' AT&T Inc.'s nearly fridge-sized units, which route its new U-verse video product to customers, are drawing particular ire. A few caught fire or even exploded. AT&T said it has fixed that by replacing the units' backup batteries."
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Telecom Rollouts Raise Ire Over Utility Boxes

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  • by EdIII (1114411) * on Saturday August 23, 2008 @09:35AM (#24718083)

    AT&T really has no excuse. Here in Las Vegas there are dozens of cell phone towers that really look like palm trees. All it takes is a little effort to camouflage these boxes and place them with a little more intelligence.

    That picture is one ugly job. A little landscaping, fencing, whatever would solve 90% of their problem. Considering how much those boxes cost with their contents you would think a few thousand dollars each for cosmetics would be a drop in the bucket.

  • by RoverDaddy (869116) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @09:36AM (#24718093) Homepage
    I could argue they don't have to exist at all. Shouldn't the people who live in the community have some say whether not these services are installed? I'm appalled that states are caving in to lobbying from the Cable and Telecom industry and taking away local control over these agreements. In Massachusetts, Verizon has been complaining that it's too expensive to negotiate with each town individually. I'm a fan of FIOS, but I still think the proper response is 'tough shit'.
  • waah waah! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by too2late (958532) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @09:45AM (#24718139) Journal
    "we want our high speed internet and tv but you can't put the equipment for it HERE!!!"
  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @09:57AM (#24718215)
    You want cheap comms, the price is eyesores.

    People put up with telegraph poles and electricity pylons for the benefits (electric power and telephones). If you want your broadband and services at rock-bottom prices, you can't expect the utilities to shell-out for NIMBY-approved landscaping.

    According to the article, only a few boxes are fridge-sized, most are much smaller. Give it a year ot two and they'll be covered in bushes, to disguise the fact that the residents want all the up-to-date services they offer.

  • by kaos07 (1113443) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @10:03AM (#24718255)
    If they don't exist, then you don't get the fast-speed services, right? So on one hand you have in the US bitching about the fact their internet sucks, and then you have them bitching when companies build the infrastructure to give them faster internet...?
  • Re:Easement (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Migraineman (632203) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @10:04AM (#24718259)
    Unfortunately, every local gub'ment has some form of "easement" clause in the title to your property. Initially intended for installation of sidewalks and public utility access corridors, it's being usurped by the private for-profit telecom companies. They've lobbied the city/county officials such that they get treatment like they're a public utility (e.g. universal telephone service, etc.) and then "embrace and extend" that access to the much more lucrative high-speed cable/fiber access. Unfortunately, the telecom companies are notoriously cheap, and wouldn't lift a finger to improve an installation's appearance if it meant spending an additional dollar. After all, they don't benefit from that expense, do they? Consider it part of the "Tragedy of the Commons," [] only the "commons" has been extended into your front yard.
  • by Panaqqa (927615) * on Saturday August 23, 2008 @10:09AM (#24718293) Homepage
    That is "Not In My BackYard" has become "Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anybody".
  • by coryking (104614) * on Saturday August 23, 2008 @10:11AM (#24718311) Homepage Journal

    It is simply requiring the telcos to bury their nasty shit like any company that respects the neighborhood it does business in. The only reason they dont bury them is because the local zoning lets them save $50k and plop their volkswagon sized garbage at street level.

    The telco is *not* going to say "NO FIOS FOR YOU" if the community demanded they bury these turds. They will just jack the price up by $0.01 and amortize the cost over 20 years.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 23, 2008 @10:41AM (#24718527)

    ... must cover markings within 48 hours or face fine, etc.

    Well, that's how to get rid of those boxes. Break out the spray paint.

  • by langelgjm (860756) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @10:43AM (#24718545) Journal

    Instead, we get complaints that the new gear is ugly and that telcos don't want to negotiate a different standard with every little town. I hope we can at least agree that it's logical for the telcos to want one standard per state, at least for the sanity of their installer techs. I'm not objecting to making that standard rigorous, just so long as there's only one of them.

    Sorry, but why exactly should the citizens of various local governments give up their right to determine standards for their community? To make it easier for a telephone company to turn a profit?

    Boo hoo, I say. Large businesses consistently complain that following local rules is too complicated. I call bullshit.

    There are some issues where it makes sense to have a statewide consensus - medical licenses, law licenses, etc. What is visually acceptable in a given community is not one of those issues. Maybe the folks in town X are fine with boxes on the street, but if the folks in town Y aren't, the telco has a choice: abide by their rules, attempt to convince them to change their rules, or don't run service there. Trying to go over local governments' heads at the state level is just lazy.

    Besides, you can bet the lobbyists will be out in force to make sure those state regulations are awfully lax. It'll be much harder to do that on a local level.

    And then what? The telco will eventually end up complaining that managing different standards over a dozen or 48 states is too complicated, and there should be a national standard (think car manufacturers). We already see this sort of consolidation happening with IP law - attempts to unify disparate national laws into a consistent worldwide whole that fails to take into account local differences. You can kiss federalism goodbye.

  • by Dun Malg (230075) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @11:24AM (#24718859) Homepage

    They need service access so they can't be sealed solid - some kind of service hatch/door will be a must. Obviously they'd have seals, but these perish and water will get in.

    Gimme a break. The phone companies have been burying copper POTS for 100 years without serious water damage issues. See, the trick is, you don't put the equipment rack directly under the manhole cover, and you include a sump pump. Granted, you clearly couldn't think of that, but I guarantee that AT&T has.

  • by flaming error (1041742) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @11:27AM (#24718883) Journal

    Thanks for the informative post.

      > But IMHO, most residents are unrealistic when they crave services but
      > are unwilling to deal with the equipment required to run the services

    If the people "craving services" were the only ones getting utility boxes in their yard I'd see your point.

    But in this case, monopolist carriers are unilaterally selecting random homes to bear the costs of hosting noisy eyesores, regardless of whether the family is their customer, regardless of the will of the neighborhood and local government.

  • by Dun Malg (230075) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @11:28AM (#24718895) Homepage

    What if they offered their services free of charge in exchange for the box on your grass?

    Lifetime internet/VOD/cableTV/phone service in exchange for a box on my lawn? Fuck, I'd be out there pouring the ugly concrete pad myself. But see, that's the whole goddamn point isn't it. They're using municipal easements to crap up people's front yards with nether their consent, nor their input, nor any reimbursement.

  • by aaarrrgggh (9205) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @12:28PM (#24719313)

    Pretend you could put this equipment in a concrete vault. If the box is a 5' cube above ground, you are looking at a minimum of a 10' x 8' x 8' excavation to build a vault and bury it. It will need a 6' x 6' access hatch for future equipment replacement.

    Underground utilities are hard work. Finding that big of a space clear in many areas is a huge challenge; the planning effort alone is easily doubled, and the installation cost is at least 10x. On top of all that, the operating cost is at least 50% higher. All this with no benefit to the utility. The question then becomes can the service be provided at a price point that it will have a return on investment?

    Designing more compact boxes is great... but if it means you have to piss off 20x more people, what is the better solution?

  • Cell towers (Score:3, Insightful)

    by AlpineR (32307) <> on Saturday August 23, 2008 @12:38PM (#24719385) Homepage

    My biggest complaint is against cell towers with blinding strobe lights on top. So bright that you can see them from ten miles away on a sunny day. Two or three of those can kind of ruin an otherwise scenic vista. (I'm looking at you, Michigan.)

    The best solution I've seen is to disguise the towers as pine trees. It just takes a few branches, and the technology has been perfected since the 1950's.

  • Re:waah waah! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by NevermindPhreak (568683) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @01:58PM (#24719925)

    I think they just want AT&T to do a better job at hiding the equipment. Or placing them in less-annoying locations, instead of in the middle of someones front lawn.

    People have been hiding electronics for years, and there really isn't any excuse for this other than cost. I bet if you dig far enough into the company, you'll find that someone did a cost analysis showing that it's cheaper to take the bad PR from those that complain than it is to put money into hiding these from the start.

  • Re:Easement (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Migraineman (632203) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @02:47PM (#24720293)

    You people need to see things from the utility's point of view.

    You people? Just because I'm unwilling to tolerate an unwelcome liability in my front yard doesn't automatically make me the bad guy ... or does it?

    I like the "work with them" part, because they're more than willing to work with me, right? See the Tragedy of the Commons link, above. Lemme expand on the details of the problem. First, the easement doesn't relieve me of property ownership. I'm still obligated to maintain the property in the easement, and I'm still taxed on it because I'm the owner. That's a nifty trick the local utilities got enacted - they don't want to pay property tax on the right-of-way, but they want unfettered access. Nice huh? So anyway, I'm not supposed to dig with power tools within 3 feet of the buried utilities, and I'm not supposed to obstruct the meters. I don't really have any objection to the gas or water access, as I use those utilities. However, my tolerance ends there. I do not have a cable subscription (DirecTV, thankyouverymuch.) Consequently, I have no tolerance of Comcast putting an R2D2 in my front yard. Cable TV is not a necessary municipal utility - gas, electric, water, sewer, and to a lesser extent telephone. Locally, the cable TV companies have been granted regional monopolies. Now they're exercising eminent domain and seizing property from me, for which I receive no benefit nor compensation. Why would I tolerate this?

  • by Swervin (836962) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @03:02PM (#24720423)
    And just how do you propose to get the backup power from the CO to the boxes? The reason you can locate the backup batteries in the CO on a copper plant is because copper can conduct electricity. I'll give you a couple fiber jumpers, a deep cycle battery, and a piece of equipment, and you go right ahead and show me how to power that equipment across the fiber. If you want fiber, you'll have to deal with locally placed battery backup.
  • by Naturalis Philosopho (1160697) on Saturday August 23, 2008 @03:56PM (#24720919)
    But in my town it'd be illegal for me to put a "small refrigerator" in my front yard and leave it there for years. I wouldn't be jailed, but I would be fined, and if I left it there long enough I'd be charged when they hauled it away to the dump for me. Why? Because it's an eyesore and lowers my and my neighbor's property values. So it's different when a cable company does it... why?

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