If you live in the Haight, you may have gotten a mailer letting you know that AT&T is planning to have "micro" Wi-Fi antennas installed on the outside of buildings in the neighborhood. If so, you may have wondered, as we did, what that is all about.
First off, they're probably not the cell antennas you're imagining. According to Omar Masry at the Planning Department, these are boxes that are painted the color of the building they're installed on. The proposed sites right now are Magnolia Brewpub, on the Haight Street side, and the former Skunkfunk space at 1475 Haight. (There was a third site proposed for Frank's Liquor at Haight and Cole, but the application was withdrawn by the carrier.)
In Magnolia's case, the antennas would go under the awning facing Haight Street, and provide a Wi-Fi option for anyone within about 150 feet (think of walking into a Starbucks and having your phone ask if you want to connect to Wi-Fi, only outside).
In addition to being short range, Masry says, they're also low power, emitting only about 1-2 percent of the FCC's maximum allowed radio frequency exposure level. They are designed to be unobtrusive, and to preserve the aesthetic of the building they live on.
Here's the upshot: they might improve your cell service. Their purpose is to help unburden the overloaded AT&T network by allowing people to hop on Wi-Fi while they're out and about instead of using data.
"Wi-Fi antennas (each about the size of a desktop telephone) allow for “offloading” from cell networks (to reduce congestion) as they tend to handle data better (in short ranges given their fairly low power usage) as compared to larger neighborhood-serving cell antennas," Masry told us.
The way the process for installation plays out, Masry said, is that the carrier approaches the business about setting up sites, and if the business agrees, then together they file an application with the Planning Commission, including plans and simulations. The Planning Department does site visits and a preliminary environmental reviews, and eventually approves the plans. From there, it proceeds as a standard Building Permit, meaning there wouldn't be a public hearing unless one was requested by neighbors.
If you want more information, or would like to request the Planning Department review the project, Masry says, you should contact 311, or the San Francisco Department of Health.
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