Utility cabinets like AT&T U-verse's are ugly, but some serve a good purpose

Jim Barthold, FierceIPTVApparently the city fathers in Wheaton, Ill. don't exactly know what constitutes a front lawn. In a move that smacks of Bill Clinton's notorious request to define "is," the Wheaton City Council won't decide whether to let AT&T (NYSE: T) install 11 more U-verse utility cabinets until they clearly understand what makes a front lawn.

There is, among those in that city and others in the country, a fear that utility cabinets will blemish the landscape with their garish appearance. The issue especially vexes the elected officials in the Chicago suburb because AT&T would be placing these units on suburban lawns.

"My concern again continues to be the ability of AT&T to park one of these boxes in somebody's front yard. I'm particularly sensitive to that with respect to a corner lot, so I want to understand how this works," said North District Councilman Phil Suess in a story reported by The Daily Herald. "Forget the zoning. You're basically parking one of these boxes in someone's front yard, and I don't think we should be doing that."

Utility boxes front lawn

The value of a utility box depends on what utilities are being provided. (Photo by Jim Barthold)

It is, from a politician's standpoint, a viable argument. I'd love to have the mayor of Millville, N.J., come to my house and look out my front window, where he'd see a big fat utility cabinet plopped there by my electric company--which is somewhat ironic, since I have solar panels atop my roof--and a pair of comically leaning towers that, I believe, contain my phone and maybe cable connections.

I agree with Mr. Suess: they're ugly.

Some of my more ambitious neighbors have planted dune grasses around the units to try to hide them. This is against the HOA rules and I am a staunch defender of rules (as well as being averse to yardwork), thus I have left those boxes alone in their fading green glory. Frankly, I just don't look at them, which is more than I can say for my wife, who carps about them on a nearly daily basis.

What I find ironic about the whole mess is that the boxes contain the equipment needed to drive the community's utilities so we don't have the ugly scars of poles and wires hanging over our heads. For some of my neighbors, this is an aesthetic breath of fresh air. For those of us with the contraptions on our front lawns, it's a bit less exciting.

The problem I have with the boxes on my lawn, however, has nothing to do with aesthetics and everything to do with what they contain--or more importantly, what they don't contain. Despite the fact that there is fiber running in the underground conduits throughout my community (and under my driveway) I don't have a fiber-based broadband service. At least the folks in Wheaton, Ill., if they have to look at the ugly boxes, will get the opportunity to buy an alternative broadband service--U-verse. It's still a pill to swallow, no doubt, but at least it's a sugar coating. I've nothing better than a couple contraptions that utility companies occasionally pry open then leave even more askew than they were before they arrived.

Addendum: Of course, no sooner did I weigh in on what a good idea it would be for AT&T to acquire Hulu than the streaming service provider pulled back its for sale sign and decided to go it on its own. I'd like to believe that my forceful argument was enough to make the Hulu owners reconsider what they have and beef it up. Of course, I'd also like to believe that the recession is over and all is well with the economy. I'm sort of silly that way.--Jim