SF Lets AT&T Move Ahead With U-Verse

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The San Francisco Board of Supervisors let AT&T move forward with deploying its U-Verse TV and broadband service and revived a troubled cell-phone health warning law at its meeting on Tuesday.

The city has clashed with carriers on both issues over the past few years as environmental activism trumped the prominent local role of the high-tech industry. In both cases, that activism appears to have given way to compromise.

AT&T sought three years ago to roll out its U-Verse service throughout San Francisco. The city's planning department exempted it from getting an environmental impact report on its plan to install as many as 726 large cabinets on sidewalks as part of the rollout. After activists appealed that decision to the board of supervisors, AT&T backed off, but this year it tried again with a scaled-down proposal. On Tuesday, the board backed the planning department's decision by a vote of 6-5.

The cabinets that AT&T wants to install are much larger than its existing boxes in the city. Neighborhood activists had complained that the cabinets would block sidewalks, attract graffiti and clash with the dense scale and historic character of some of San Francisco's communities.

Under its new plan, AT&T said it would seek to put in 495 boxes as an initial deployment and then work with local leaders on installation of more such boxes in the future. The cabinets are used to interconnect AT&T's fiber network with copper wires that go the rest of the way to individual homes. The carrier will still have to get approval for each box, but won't have to undergo a study of the total impact of the equipment on the city's environment.

The U-Verse service can include Internet access at speeds up to 26M bps (bits per second) along with TV and VoIP (voice over IP).

Also on Tuesday, the supervisors moved toward amending a law it passed last year requiring warnings about the danger of radiation from mobile phones. Last year's ordinance said stores that sold phones would have to put a label on each model showing how much radiation it emits.

The U.S. cellular industry group CTIA responded strongly, pulling out its annual CTIA Wireless I.T. & Entertainment conference and suing the city. The group said San Francisco's new law would mislead consumers by implying that some phones were more dangerous than others, even though all models are approved under the same FCC regulations.

The amended law targets cellphones in general, requiring only that phone sellers post signs and give out literature about possible dangers and ways to mitigate them.

Introducing the amendments, Supervisor John Avalos said it had turned out that some types of cellphones are not rated according to the Specific Absorption Rate that the city had planned to rely on. Avalos said the amendments actually strengthened the law.

"This would help the public to know how to protect themselves and could perhaps save lives," Avalos said.

The amendments passed a first vote of the board on Tuesday and are due to receive a final vote next Tuesday. If they pass, Mayor Ed Lee will have 10 days to sign the bill.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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