Wireless coverage would be a beautiful thing in San Francisco 

‘It’s not magic, it has to have infrastructure!” exclaimed my friend. I was asking her advice about whether I should get an iSomething — and it turned into discussion of wireless coverage in San Francisco. She was referring to the numerous roadblocks companies wanting to install wireless data delivery hardware in our fair city must overcome. 

Being hilly and surrounded by water makes it difficult for companies to deliver wireless service. Add the fact that we are proud early adopters of technology, and a serious need for proper Wi-Fi infrastructure emerges.

It is becoming increasingly embarrassing that our city lacks adequate coverage. At the celebration of the Giants’ World Series victory at City Hall, the capacity for data transfer in that area was overloaded on every carrier. iPhones had little or no reception — despite the fact that AT&T brought in several mobile towers.

And if you think that was bad, just wait until 200,000 Europeans arrive for the America’s Cup in 2013 with phones that only work on GSM networks. AT&T and T-Mobile are the only two phone companies that use a GSM system, and without serious expansion of their capacities, the headlines about Eisenhower-era reception in the heart of Innovation Nation will not be kind.

Today, the Board of Supervisors will consider whether to allow AT&T to move forward with plans to install 726 utility boxes throughout The City. The boxes would basically turn landlines into fiber-optic lines. Right now, if you watch a movie on your iPhone inside your house, you are using data bandwith from a cell tower. With a personal fiber-optic wire, you would be on your own little network, getting better reception and also freeing up space on that cell tower.

Think bandwidth is not a problem? Last year AT&T built a brand new cell tower system in Noe Valley. Its capacity was maxed out in two days.

Groups such as San Francisco Beautiful (Disclaimer: I used to be on the board of directors, and I think they are pretty great) have asked the Board of Supervisors to force AT&T to engage in a time-consuming and costly process of environmental review before building the boxes — despite the fact that the Planning Department already ruled that such a review isn’t necessary. Allow me to address some of the group’s arguments.

1. The boxes are too big and will impede sidewalks, attracting graffiti and trash. The vote today is only on whether to force AT&T to undertake an environmental review. Each box will still have to go through the permitting process, which includes a discussion with neighbors about graffiti and trash abatement and where to put the boxes so as to minimize obstruction.

2. Put the boxes underground. Federal regulations require that, as a matter of worker protection, underground facilities must have an entrance and ventilation facilities that basically necessitate a structure above-ground that is as big as simply putting the box above ground.

3. Put the boxes on private property or make them smaller. The problem with the private option is that private property is, well … private. It can be sold, demolished or just held hostage by a crazy owner.

Much as I disagree with the arguments put forth by the fine folks at San Francisco Beautiful and others, I’m comforted by the fact that — should the project go forward — such concerned citizens will be watching the permitting process for each cabinet to make sure each placement is thoughtful and as unobtrusive as possible.

For the record, I am a Sprint user. But I’m also a San Franciscan. I’m honored to live in this beautiful, forward-thinking city. Our talented residents supply the magic, but we need proper infrastructure, too.


Open primaries raise question of DCC’s relevance

During last November’s supervisorial elections, the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee used Democratic Party funds to bash certain candidates for supervisor who are Democrats — though not the ones officially endorsed by the committee. When this came to light, committee chairman Aaron Peskin shrugged, blamed everyone else, and put himself in charge of the effort to undo what has been done.

I have never been clear on why the committee should endorse anyone in local races where every candidate is a Democrat, but there is a whole new reason to rethink committee endorsements on the state level: the open primary.

Endorsed by California voters in 2010, the new system allows the top-two vote getters in any state office primary to be in the final runoff, even if both are members of the same party. In this neck of the woods, that means that two Democrats could be on the final ballot for state Assembly, Senate, or BART Board. In such a case, who gets the money, campaign materials and other support that comes with the endorsement of the local party committee?

At their meeting on Wednesday, the committee will discuss the implications of the open primary on party endorsements. At that same meeting, the committee will consider new rules prohibiting the use of party money to campaign against fellow Democrats in local elections.

With the messy ethical issues implicated in picking one Democrat over another in any race, one might think that the committee would consider giving up endorsements altogether when multiple Dems are on the same ticket. But, as doing so would diminish the power of the committee, you can bet they’d rather walk a tightrope than be irrelevant.

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Melissa Griffin

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