AT&T boxes on Florence south of Dempster

Evanston aldermen have told city staff to stop issuing permits for AT&T high-speed video boxes in city parkways.

The move was seen as a temporary measure until the City Council can address a request from a citizens group that it adopt an ordinance establishing a Right-of-Way Commission to work with the Public Works Department to review such permit requests.

The action came after one resident, Edward Walton of 1600 Dempster St., complained at the council’s Administration and Public Works Committee meeting Monday about the boxes placed in the parkway beside his home.

Walton said they are noisy, obstruct the view and have been hit with graffiti twice.

He complained that they are located just six feet from his house and that AT&T trucks frequently park next to the box to service them.

So we went to take a look at the boxes and found that: 

  • They are about six feet from the side of the house — because the house is built almost on the Florence Avenue property line and the parkway is very narrow — leaving only the sidewalk to separate the boxes from the house.
  • The whirring noise of a fan can be heard when standing near the boxes, but more than a few feet away it is drowned out by traffic noise from heavily traveled Dempster Street.
  • Two AT&T trucks were parked by the boxes with their motors running when we stopped by, but drove off a few minutes later.
  • The boxes were graffiti-free when we checked.
  • Given the small lot sizes and narrow parkways, it wasn’t obvious where on the Florence Avenue block the boxes could have been placed and be any less visible to an adjacent property owner.

At the council committee meeting, city engineering chief Paul Schneider said that AT&T plans to install the video boxes at 94 locations in Evanston, and the city has issued permits for 89 of them. Of those, Schneider said:

  • AT&T has completed work on 68.
  • It has installed boxes, but not completed wiring, at 16 more.
  • It has poured concrete pads but not installed boxes at 5 additional locations.

Permits for at least some of the locations where work has not been completed have expired and need to be renewed, Schneider added.

Under legislation adopted by the state, the city has no authority to refuse to let AT&T install its system and only limited discretion over the location of the boxes.

Neal Levin of 1232 Maple Ave., a leader of the “Stop the Box” steering committee which urged establishment of the new city review panel, said, “A lot of people are to blame for what happened” with the AT&T high-speed video project, “but the city needs to be willing to enforce regulations to make AT&T adjust the box locations.”

The aldermen referred the issue to the council’s Rules Committee for further discussion.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. I thought the City didn’t have a say?
    How is it that we are now issuing permits for these? My understanding was that this decision was made by the State and couldn’t be overridden by the City. While I don’t see the point in crying over spilled milk, I also think that if we do have a choice about the boxes, citizens have been pretty clear that they aren’t wanted.

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    1. Box permits
      The city has always had the authority to require that permits be issued before the work was done — it just has no authority to refuse to issue permits assuming the technical rules are followed.

      So, we don’t have a choice about whether we shall have boxes, and very little choice about where they will be.

      The aldermen are trying to make the “Stop the Box” people feel better and stall for time in hopes Lisa Madigan or someone will ride to the rescue.

      I see little evidence that people other than those who have boxes on their parkways are actually all that upset.

  2. Graffiti on AT&T Boxes
    Who didn’t see this coming? The large, obtrusive boxes are natural billboards for graffiti/gang tagging, and they have already been hit at several locations. The City may not be able to refuse installation of the boxes, but AT&T should be required to mask the boxes with shrubbery to make them less visible, thereby reducing the appeal to vandals and making them blend in better in the neighborhoods. AT&T was really let off the hook on this one, and it’s a shame for our City.

    1. Shrubs
      Hi Matt,
      AT&T has already agreed to pay for landscaping around the boxes.
      — Bill

      1. Bring us… a SHRUBBERY!
        Where would one plant shrubs to hide the boxes in these photos? Besides, don’t crews need to be able to access the boxes, reducing the ability of irate citizens to hide these things?

        Just curious. Shrubs on a box, lipstick on a pig…

      2. Shrubs
        Thanks, Bill, I wasn’t aware of that. It’s encouraging news, and I hope it will help. — Matt

      3. Design examples? Shrub variety?
        Has anyone seen any design examples of said shrubbry, or a listing of the variety of plants that would be used, who would do the installation, and who would come by and trim them each year? Will a local landscaper be contracted to do the work? Will the homeowner get a choice? I’ll believe the shrubs when I see them.

  3. the view?
    “Walton said they are noisy, obstruct the view and have been hit with graffiti twice.”

    What view? The boxes aren’t that tall, and they appear to be below his window. ( See Google Maps Street view for a pre-box picture). The only view they seem to block would be from the basement, through the glass block windows, or maybe he wants to get a good view of the curb on Florence Ave.

    1. Perhaps neighborhood sight lines?
      Instead of the view out the window, I would rather suspect that the view is off the whole street by the whole neighborhood. These boxes are very unsightly, insultingly so.

      Also, sunshine in the basement window.

  4. Epic Fail
    as the teenagers would say. Could these boxes be any more unattractive? Why are there two of them, why are they so big? Why is the slab so big? Did ATT have to make any submission of any kind to an appearance committee? We there any kind of community review, anywhere, as to their design?

    And frankly, can you imagine any of these on one of the tree lined streets in Wilmette? Clearly the design engineers at ATT did not put the homeowner in its equation at all. We need to make it take a huge step back, so that the future replacements for these boxes are designed in a more thoughtful and community oriented way.

    1. More than an Epic failure
      The state legislature, and any of our representatives who helped AT&T push this through the legislature should be ashamed of themselves. As I have mentioned before AT&T’s motive is to save money. Unlike Verizon, another phone provider, who is going full fiber to the home. AT&T uses fiber only to the box and the feed to the home is of much lesser bandwidth.

      Not very well publicized, either ignored or not comprehended, is the AT&T attempt to place all PEG channels on Channel 99. While there is an advantage to be able to access other municipality’s PEG Channels, there are some real problems.

      As it now stands Channel 99 cannot be digitally recorded, carry closed captioning (what about ADA?) or be seen at full channel resolution.

      If there are over 900 channels available, why isn’t each community important enough to have it’s own channel(s)?

      If it’s so in the spirit of the law, why are PEG access supporters so unhappy, obviously there’s no financial gain for PEG.

      None of this has been made public. Evanston does not have a Cable Commission. Is there anyone with sufficient technical competence on City Staff to have made us aware of this? Maybe the City Council wants less visibility? We currently have four access channels for the City and schools available to us. Those will be submerged with many other community PEG channels. Good luck finding them. Are they are on the Program Guide?

      There is substantial gain for AT&T. For each analog PEG channel that is removed, AT&T can place 10 or more standard definition (or worse) channels. In Evanston, that means that we can have 40 or more channels of ShamWow, Billy May or ED commercials in the four PEG Channels. That is no gain for us.

      As a possible solution, give each of the communities their individual local channels and you can still keep Channel 99 for all the surrounding area PEG channels. There are 900 channels!

  5. Bill Daley
    Bill Daley was President of SBC (the company that bought and took the AT&T name) and was able to somehow get this through the legislature. It is hard to go against the Daleys. Apparently, in this case, it was impossible. Now he’s the Midwest President of Chase Bank. Don’t know what they’re getting for their money.

  6. Boxes, skyhigh rates, PEG access, & muni control ALL important
    It’s important for readers to be made aware of the various reasons AT&T is bad news for the entire community. We need to organize around near term fixes while building toward long term solutions at all levels as well.

    Yes the boxes are unsightly and worse. It is just as true that cable rates are outrageously high — we all know that. (That there is perhaps, all told, a 2 cent price difference between Comcast and AT&T is less well known however.) Also very disturbing is the fact that AT&T’s PEG access channel 99 song-and-dance is really just an attack on local free speech, education, and civic engagement. Illinois AG Madigan, Congress, AND the FCC are zeroing in on this last issue, where arguably the strongest case against the fiasco of state franchising can be made.

    There is a LOT to be upset about here.

    And more explanation of the PEG issues is indeed needed.

    AT&T strips the identity of all PEG channels and hides them behind a series of menus way up at ch 99. This is called “channel slamming”. AT&T U-verse subscribers cannot simply tune in the village board meeting or homework help program as they do the movie channels. Viewers can’t switch between commercial and PEG channels, set a DVR to record a PEG program, or depend on getting timely local emergency alerts or closed captioned programming. AT&T also cuts funding for PEG access (talk to the folks in Indiana, Michigan, and elsewhere), reduces their resolution quality, and reduces public cable drops to schools, libraries and other public centers.

    It is for these and other reasons that several Chicago area communities are withholding their community channel signals from AT&T in protest — including Evanston.

    At present, there is no effective competition in Evanston and almost all other towns. Experience tells us that virtually the only places bona-fide, price effective competition exists (20+% savings) is in places like Bristol, Virginia, where the city constructed and owns a 100% fiber build out, makes real provision to address the digital divide, and even runs the sales operation. This is just how electricity is provided in Winnetka — hardly a bastion of what a few lunkheads might try to call “communization”!

    If Evanston wants its citizens and businesses to be best poised for the digital future, if it wants to be a model for others, it must seriously look at taking control of the game itself. The federal broadband legislation heading towards president Obama’s desk includes help (stimulus for jobs) for local communities to do just that. Let’s hope the City creates a telecom commission and office as it once had.

    1. Missing the technology boat?
      Hi Scott,
      You make an interesting point about AT&T’s approach to providing public access channels. It is less convenient for users than what Comcast does.
      But you are assuming that consumers have a burning desire for the PEG channels.
      My understanding is that it is currently impossible to track whether anyone is watching the public, education and government cable channels.
      As long as that remains the case, we’ll never know whether the tax money we pay to provide the PEG channels is being well spent.
      By contrast, if City Council meetings and such were presented online, we’d be able to tell exactly how big an audience they drew. And people could watch them at any time they chose.
      Shouldn’t we demand measurable results — and improved performance over time — when we’re spending tax money to provide a service?
      — Bill

    2. PEG Channels
      We subscribe to AT&T U Verse because for us their rates are considerably lower than Comcast and we had so many interruptions in our Comcast service. I do watch the PEG channels regularly since I am employed by one of the school districts and prefer to watch the board meetings (as well as other public meetings) at home at my convenience. I did manage to find the necessary menu only to find that Evanston is not on the list. If Evanston is blocking the signal for whatever reason, we are left without this service which we paid for and have been used to having.

      It is interesting that after the initial complaints about the boxes, I don’t see more comments above. One simple things to make them blend better would to paint them dark green, similar to the post office storage boxes.

  7. This article missed the point.
    This article missed the point.

    1. ATT did not follow the rules for notice to residents at least for the several that have complained about this, probably more. One resident who caught them just in time (not because of the 3 day notice required by the new state franchise law that ATT rammed through) succeeded in getting a VRAD box relocated so that it would be less visible from their property and would not cut through the roots of some large old oak trees.

    2. The landscaping is a farce. Sure they allocate $1500 per VRAD for it but since there has to be 4 feet of space on all sides of the boxes, the parkways won’t allow any landscaping on the street or sidewalk side. Sorry but even landscaped we’re probably talking some $20k of lost property value that filters down to other houses on the block.

    3. These boxes are unlike normal phone company cross-connect boxes. They are powered devices with air conditioners and batteries in them. Several of them across the country have exploded and caught fire. While ATT says these problems have been fixed, you’d think it would be wise to steer them away from homes or at least include the residents nearby in finding the best spots or even just to warn them. No, they like quiet, expedient, secrecy. That’s the Texas way.

    4. There have been several instances of ATT workers blocking streets or doing work without approval or notice to the city. Residents had called these in and they city had to come out and stop ATT.

    5. The city was overwhelmed with 99 concurrently submitted permits with the state law requiring they accept them within 90 days. They worked hard to find the best locations but they could but could not possibly take the time to seriously consider all their options. Plus they don’t have the technical understanding to question ATT on matters such as wire distance, equipment density, alternate equipment, underground vaults, etc.. Nor did the city have the time to police resident notification or better yet involve residents much earlier in the process. Add to this that the city was not aware that there were issues like this to be ready for. All they saw was the state law and a bunch of permits. They needed help but they didn’t know it.

    6. The whole PEG thing is brazen arrogance but that’s not the scope of the over-sight committee. Fortunately it’s being handled by Lisa Madigan.

    7. The oversight committee will handle all utilities, not just ATT. We saw that this is a big problem and we want to get the rest of the boxes done with more scrutiny. We’re willing to talk to residents and with ATT. We take a load off the city. We don’t want this to happen again with any utility. We bring concerned citizens and various legal and technical experts to the table to protect our beautiful city. We want new competitive services like ATT U-Verse but not this way, not the way it was done, and not without our involvement as citizens.

    Disclosure: I am in the stop the box group and hope to be on the oversight committee. I was not directly affected by a VRAD box (nor proposed) in any way.

    1. More bureaucracy
      Hi Stel,

      I’m not convinced that the panel you want to sit on would have any positive effect — given the provisions of the state law that tie the city’s hands.

      I am convinced that it would add cost to local government at a time of severe budgetary stress.

      And, if it were given jurisdiction over all utility permits, as you suggest, it undoubtedly would add delays on all projects that would ultimately raise costs to consumers.

      Evanston already has 32 city government boards and commissions. Methinks that’s enough.

      Your services are probably more beneficial to the public and less costly if you keep lobbying as an activist group and don’t try to become part of the bureaucracy.

      — Bill

  8. AT&T noise coming from VRAD fans
    AT&T has failed to correct humming noise coming from their units even with the insulation they put it inside of the Vrad Fan noise still coming.
    Also As few of you reported those vrad boxes are magnets for graffity and vandalism.
    My city counsel in my district got political contribution from AT&T liason to get VRADS permits going without the resident’s consideration or concerns on these VRADS boxes be installed too close to our living residents causing also in our properties its value be declined.
    AT&T has another type of Vrad boxes they can mounted on telephone poles and avoid all this type of issues reported. Hopefully District Court can give Them the order to relocate their boxes to different spot the ones installed already and are too close to the resident’s houses.
    So next time they have to bere more carefull installing those vrads

  9. Stop the boxes
    Why did our elected officials allow this? M We live in evanston for the tree, the parks the beaches and the green grass. Now we have beige boxes that are have hazardous sharp edges, make noise, sometimes explode and are anything but what evanston stands for as a beautiful or should I say once beautiful community with tree lined parkways. ore eyesores in Evanston! DO NOT BUY UVERSE!!!!

  10. Boxes spreading like infestation

    I moved to the historic district in Elgin, dotted with 18th century Victorian homes, many of which have had restoration grants to restore their original splendor. 3 months after my move, without any notification, trucks pulled onto the curve and three days, erected a 6 X 6 foot concrete launching pad along with a box that looks like a washing machine and soon to be an obnoxiously big cabinet.  On each of these boxes is a warning sign: "Danger Hazardous Voltage. Will cause death, serious injury, or substantial property damage".  Is this the price we should pay for faster internet service? 

    I made several calls to the Engineering department of AT&T, and am notified that in my district, every 800 feet there is going to be a new box.  Whats more, there is an alternate way to put the cables underground but because of the expense, AT&T has rolled it onto the public with, unsightly mess, a potential hazard, and a product that lowers the property value of the honest hard-working middle class American.


    1. Deal with it

      Ya know, just deal with it.

      If you do not like it, then move.  Get out of here.  Find your own utopia.

      This is ridiculous. 

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