Readers: This is part of an ongoing series of updates on what happened to the AT&T U-verse rollout in Orange County. The company recently said that it was halting new activity in seven O.C. cities. So keep checking back for updates!
UPDATE, 7/24/09: Added comment from AT&T’s H. Gordon Diamond regarding U-verse utility boxes and defective batteries. See below.
Efforts to offer Tustin residents AT&T’s U-verse TV service remain in limbo as the city and AT&T sort out their differences. But limbo could become eternity because the city believes it’s waiting for AT&T’s responses to ordinance requests, while AT&T has decided to stop its pursuit of 93 permits after more than a year of effort. Tustin, like five other cities I’ve interviewed, offered one primary reason it wasn’t keen on the project: The city wants the boxes built underground.
But underground isn’t the only issue for Tustin and below-ground utility boxes aren’t mandatory. Some of these utility cabinets have already been built above ground, including one in front of C. E. Utt Middle School on Browning Avenue. The city has other issues it wants resolved before greenlighting the rest of the project, said Elizabeth Binsack, Tustin’s communicty development director, who invited me to view the presentation given to AT&T about AT&T and given to the Planning Commission and City Council.
“I gotta tell you, the sites we looked at in our walk, some were conflicting with line of sight, some were in the spot of trees and fire hydrants. I don’t think they looked at those sites at all. We did,” Binsack said.
1. AT&T’s unwillingness to move these boxes to less obtrusive areas, such as the back of the park instead of smack dab in the middle, or off the edge of the sidewalk and into the landscaping (see photo on right and below). ”We haven’t heard back from AT&T,” she said.
2. U-verse isn’t as advanced as Verizon FiOS, which instead of offering fiber optic technology to the middle of a neighborhood, builds the fiber all the way to the house. (“What if we end up with 93 boxes that are obselete?” Binsack wondered.)
3. Safety, not for the box, but the public. ”Forgetting the issue of safety (of the box), but personal safety. In Houston, a U-verse box blew up. It melted the guy’s garage,” she said, handing me the articles to prove it.
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At this point, AT&T seems to shrug its head and sigh in disbelief. H. Gordon Diamond, with AT&T’s public affairs, said the company has gone over and over again with each city offering answers to questions.
It has repeatedly explained why boxes can’t be underground (to protect and easily access the electronics inside — I’ll address this more in a later post). The boxes also need to be near electricity and, similar to DSL Internet coverage, near AT&T’s hub.
And as Diamond has previously pointed out, U-verse has been installed in 220 cities in California. AT&T worked with each city to address safety concerns, maintenance obligations, city ordinances and all other issues.
As for the exploding boxes, these were rare instances. Defective batteries caused the explosion. AT&T has removed all of those and hasn’t had an incident since. This also never affected any properties in California. (See Light Reading’s “AT&T Investigates DSLAM Explosion” and “AT&T Begins Massive Battery Replacement.“)
ADDED July 24, 2009: Says Diamond, “This was never an issue here in California. More than 2 years ago there were a few incidents in other states involving batteries used for backup power in AT&T U-verse network cabinets. As we gained experience with these batteries, we found they no longer met our stringent performance and safety criteria. As a result, we replaced all of the batteries and finished that in early 2008.”
Next, I’ll explore a city that welcomed AT&T U-verse inside its boundaries, plus a look at why AT&T can’t and won’t build its U-verse utility boxes underground.
More U-Verse news: