AT&T boxes needed for city's future

Today, when cities like Evanston discuss the need for infrastructure improvements, the talk is not limited to the conventions of bridges, roads, and water and sewer pipes. More often, included in that discussion is the state of a community’s electronic infrastructure.

For it is those pipes of bandwidth and those roadways of data bytes that will determine whether Evanston successfully builds a bridge to the 21st Century or whether Evanston will have a bridge to nowhere.

Since the early 20th Century, telecommunications companies in Illinois and other states have sought and been given permission for a fee by the state and local government to use the public right-of-way to provide access for wiring and other utility functions.

As the needs of electronic infrastructure has changed, driven by consumer demand, the State of Illinois has tried to create a balance of providing the regulatory tools to ensure equal access to the best technology for all in a cost-effective way, and the desire of local communities to control their streets and parkways.

The most recent legislation, supported by The Evanston Chamber and all of Evanston’s state delegation, in fact, strengthened the hand of municipalities with respect to siting decisions and gave cities like Evanston the means to ameliorate intrusions to the aesthetic of the streetscape.

Utilities must submit and get approved any construction or installation plans, provide notification to impacted properties, and accept monitoring of the project through to its completion.

Before this state legislation, Evanston consumers were at the mercy of only one cable television/video provider which had a virtual monopoly on service.

The Cable and Video Competition Law of 2007 established uniform state-wide standards and procedures that have accelerated the benefits of video competition. With cable and phone companies now packaging their internet, cable, and phone services, this also means the cost of broadband access drops in true competitive markets.

As a business organization that represents many knowledge-based companies, we need a regulatory environment for technology that encourages competition, investment, and access to a menu of choices.

This is a business issue for our members because today’s working style often means that employees and management are working at home as well as at the office. The workforce of Evanston requires a strong and affordable residential telecommunications infrastructure.

The most recent electronic infrastructure improvements in Evanston are the installation of about 100 Video Ready Access Devices (VRAD) units which will serve as a critical connection between the fiber system, which carries a video signal and the older copper system that brings a signal into a home or business.

This connection will provide better voice communication, faster high-speed internet service, and an advanced Internet Protocol (IP) -based platform for extraordinary possibilities for future communications, business, and entertainment applications.

Most important, the installation of the connectivity units will ensure that all Evanston neighborhoods have access to the best technology available.

Further, instead of building more wires overhead, which are susceptible to severe weather conditions, which intrude across the yards of residents, and which must be physically attached to homes and other buildings; the units being installed, surrounded by landscaping, will have comparatively less visual impact.

As we might expect, there will be specific siting decisions that may impact a particular household more than another. The decision, however, to locate electronic infrastructure at a specific point must be weighed against the benefits the connection will have for literally hundreds of households.

We hope the City of Evanston will continue its fair and open discussion of specific siting locations for the connectivity units.

Recommendations from residents and businesses should be encouraged. Landscaping plans should be implemented with the collaboration of effected residents, and the City of Evanston should thoroughly examine all alternatives that can lessen the visual impact by siting the units in alleys or in less conspicuous locations.

But we also believe that final decisions for those locations must be made with intelligence and with the interest of the community as a whole and not be made based on who screams the loudest.

Jonathan Perman is executive director of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce.




"Further, instead of building more wires overhead, which are susceptible to severe weather conditions, which intrude across the yards of residents, and which must be physically attached to homes and other buildings; the units being installed, surrounded by landscaping, will have comparatively less visual impact."

There will still be hard wire connections to the homes because this system uses the existing telephone lines to deliver the signal. That drop limits the bandwidth available to less than the Comcast coax drop. Verizon and others are using fiber to the home which has even greater bandwidth than the coax cable that Comcast uses.

This is a less expensive compromise for AT&T with less bandwidth than other technologies.

Where was the intelligence and technical competency that led to this decision?

In return we get ugly graffiti prone boxes.

lemonade out of lemons?

Here's an idea. Yes, the new, ugly boxes are prime candidates for graffiti. Why not make them into an art project, perhaps for artists or school groups to decorate them! It might be something like all the cows that were in Chicago a few years ago. It would certainly look better than they do now or with black marker all over them.

Jonathan - it could have been done better!

Jonathan - I have not heard anyone - in the discussion of the [email protected] boxes - say they don't want the service or are they against the idea of their competing with Comcast.

What people are upset about is there very poor placement in some cases. The bottomline - lets cut out the nonsense - I would suspect in the vast majority of cases [email protected] could have come up with better locations - they just did not want to make the extra effort.

Go look at the web site were the boxes were placed at Haven - the could have been moved down a few 100 feet and would have had no impact or for that matter placed in a alley.

Could have they purchased easement behind houses? - yes - I have been recently told by a person who is going to have one of these placed in front of their house if they give them a free easement on the back of their property they will move it. Why doesn't [email protected] want to purchase easements?

The issue is the extra engineering and extra effort costs $$$ for [email protected] and requires more work - to solve. The low level employees at [email protected] who are involved in this most likely do not have the knowledge or skills to solve the problems -thus they claim there are no other solutions.

Should have council members taken a bigger role in this? - yes - some think the micromanage -bottomline they don't manage anything.

Jonathan when is the chamber going to start focusing on the tax issue like the DIET - maybe I will see you again at the budget hearing when they up the tax on poured liquor?

they can't be in the alleys

As to the remark that the boxes could be located in the alleys, for the most part, this is not true. Those boxes boost signal on existing copper telephone wire so that television signal can be carried on wire that is not able to handle the load, and certainly without great signal loss. Any AT&T tech will tell you this: the phone lines are already overloaded and those boxes simply must be close enough to the buildings they serve in order to boost signal enough. From the alleys, they cannot reach the buildings that they need to relative to the telephone wires.

And do not forget that because these boxes are boosting signal on copper wires, that they get very hot, and in three cases (including one in San Antonio, AT&T's home town) they have spontaneously combusted.

I am not a big fan of Comcast, but AT&T is bringing in a technologically inferior product that is necessarily unsightly and, quite frankly, dangerous.

VRAD Uverse boxes.

The signals are most likely carried on the telephone lines to the house in the same way that AT&T's DSL service is brought to the premises.

The signal coming from the parkway boxes is not a (RF) radio signal -- it is an IP (Internet Protocol) signal and the telephone lines can carry up to four signals.

The program is selected at the parkway boxes and is then brought to the house via the phone line. The set-top box (STB) is not like a Comcast box in that there is no tuner -- it is basically a thin client being fed by the parkway server.

Even though the parkway boxes are connected by fiber, the bandwidth to the home is similar to DSL bandwidth. In that sense it is of less bandwidth than Comcast. Verizon and others are actually bringing fiber to the home and that has much more bandwidth than Comcast cable.

The boxes could theoretically be put in the alley but there are space limitations on the ground and on the pole. The parkways offer room.

AT&T's technology is a cost compromise. The IP aspects can offer some interesting future applications. I am afraid that our legislators and others involved had no idea or understanding of the technology and its implications.