Nude calendar won’t stop AT&T boxes

Sara Peck

Robert Broome taped up huge black-and-white prints of residents posing with Evanston’s now-infamous AT&T connection boxes. In one, a woman lounges against the refrigerator-sized device, her arms extended and feet pointed in a beauty pageant-like stance.

“We should make a calendar,” Broome laughed, affixing a photo of a man peering out menacingly from behind a box.

“I’d pose nude,” joked State Rep. Julie Hamos (18th), seated at a table with State Sen. Jeff Schoenberg (9th) for the second “Stop the Box” meeting Thursday.

“We’d make millions,” Broome said.

Construction of the boxes began in mid-August. A group of eight Evanston residents were so outraged they created the Stop the Box Committee to research the legality of the boxes and rally community support. At the last meeting, an AT&T representative spoke to residents, after which the committee appealed to aldermen and city staff. At this meeting, the committee brought its concerns before state elected officials.

“It’s not just my story. Many Evanston residents have similar stories,” said 21-year-resident Sharon Solomon. “I had to wonder: Why was a large corporation allowed to profit at our expense?”

Hamos and Schoenberg voted for the video franchise act that led to construction of the boxes. The bill, which passed unanimously, was intended to provide competition for Comcast’s monopoly on bundled services after AT&T lobbied unsuccessfully for local legislation, Hamos said.

“The volume of mail and phone calls for the legislation that we received was overwhelmingly in favor of it,” Hamos said. “Admittedly, there have been some unintended imperfections.”

Amongst the concerns of residents are property values, safety and the environment. Many speculated about the legality of the box placements, since the law mandates that they minimize damage to homeowners and are of the smallest size possible. Residents also claimed that they were not notified of the boxes prior to construction, another violation.

“I want to thank whoever brought ugly to my neighborhood,” said resident Gordon Soto. “It’s disgraceful.”

Legislators in other municipalities have not received such an organized negative response, Hamos said, which makes overturning the act or mandating a construction moratorium difficult.

“It’s very hard to reverse a law unless there’s real community outcry, and it doesn’t seem like other communities are experiencing this,” she said.

Schoenberg said the city could attempt a class-action lawsuit if a local law firm agreed to take the case. The less expensive route would be to rally “a coalition” of support for overturning the law. This would involve appealing to consumer advocacy groups, other legislators and residents of fellow North Shore suburbs.

“During the fall veto session in mid-November, we have an ideal opportunity to reintroduce these issues to our colleagues,” said Schoenberg.

But allied support to eliminate the boxes, Hamos said, is not guaranteed. Dickelle Fonda, a committee member, said residents will organize a “non-violent act of civil disobedience” if Hamos’ plan does not work.

“We need to be very strategic,” said Hamos, who promised to use some of her campaign money to pay for a bus and munchies for “like-minded constituents” to take a box tour of Evanston to convince them to fight the legislation. “It will be a very tough battle.”

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