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San Francisco Judge Halts Installation Of AT&T Boxes

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- A judge earlier this week issued an indefinite stay on a decision in July by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to allow AT&T to install hundreds of utility boxes around the city, siding with environmental groups who had criticized the project.

The decision by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Harold Kahn on Monday brings to a halt AT&T's plans to place up to 726 boxes in various neighborhoods to house its "Lightspeed" data transmission technology that would improve its Internet, cable and landline phone service in the city.

The Board of Supervisors had voted 6-5 in favor of the proposal on July 19, exempting it from the state's usually lengthy environmental review process despite opposition from environmental groups who said the boxes would impede pedestrian traffic and reduce the city's aesthetic appeal.

The groups, which include San Francisco Beautiful and San Francisco Tomorrow, then appealed the board's decision to a judge, who ruled Monday that there is "a fair argument that the project would have a significant and cumulative adverse effect on the aesthetics of San Francisco."

Kahn ruled that the injunction will be in effect until a final ruling is issued in the case.

The judge's ruling was lauded by the environmental groups who opposed the project moving forward without further review.

"We are profoundly grateful to the court for upholding environmental laws that require commonsense mitigation measures," San Francisco Beautiful past president Milo Hanke said in a statement.

AT&T had already installed one box on La Playa Street in the city's Outer Richmond neighborhood and had submitted more than 100 permit applications to the city, company spokesman Lane Kasselman said.

Nearly a dozen of those permits had completed the surface mounted facilities permit process and were beginning the construction permit process, representing almost 5,000 residents that would have been eligible to receive the upgraded technology in the near future, Kasselman said.

While the permits were being sought, AT&T held several community meetings with impacted residents who "assisted us in finding suitable locations for our cabinets," he said.

Marc Blakeman, the company's regional vice president, said in a statement that "residents across the city, as well as the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, have voiced support for competition and choice when it comes to TV, high speed internet and digital phone service."

Comcast is currently the only major provider of cable service in the city.

Blakeman said, "Despite (the) decision to issue a temporary stay, AT&T believes it ultimately will prevail in the litigation and it remains committed to bringing San Francisco a next generation IP network."

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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