Everyone wants faster internet speeds, but not everyone wants to have to stare at the equipment that makes such speeds possible out their front window every day.
“I hate them,” Maria Basile said Monday with a glance toward the three plastic shells that appeared on the utility pole next to her Randolph Street driveway a little more than a month ago. A couple of feet away, an upright metal box in a not-quite-matching shade of beige stuck up from the ground between the sidewalk and the curb like a small filing cabinet left out for the trash. Recently excavated earth mounded around its base was still evident.
Basile wasn’t sure what the equipment was for or why it was there, but her opinion on her new neighbors was clear.
“I don’t like them,” she said. “They’re tacky and they’re going to get knocked over by snow plows, I think.”
The utility pole near Basile’s house is one of 52 locations in the Meadville area to receive similar upgrades from Windstream Communications, according to Scott Morris, senior adviser for corporate affairs. The upgrades consist of pole-mounted serving nodes — the plastic shells near Basile’s house — and cross-connect boxes — the metal cabinet alongside the pole. The nodes are connection points for the broadband network; the boxes house a variety of cables that are connected within.
As a result of the new equipment, about 8,000 households in the Meadville area will have access to significantly faster broadband speeds, Morris said in an email. Windstream now offers broadband at 25 megabits per second. By late summer or early fall, customers should be able to purchase service with speeds of 50 to 200 megabits per second, depending on their distance from the serving node, according to Morris. Such speeds would allow surfing, streaming and downloading content on multiple devices.
The new devices not only enable faster broadband service, according to Morris, they’re smaller than their old counterparts, which required concrete pads and their own commercial power sources. However, they do not replace the larger traditional set-ups — they are installed in addition to the already existing infrastructure.
“The smaller nodes we’re installing now don’t require either of those things (concrete pads and power sources), which is part of the reason they are less expensive and less time-consuming to deploy,” Morris said, “and that benefits our customers because they get faster broadband service more quickly than they would otherwise.”
The new network equipment may be more advanced, require less space and allow for crystal clear, ultra high definition streaming, but for some, there’s one thing it’s not: pretty.
“They’re ugly,” Councilman Sean Donahue said simply. “Oh, I hate those.”
The new equipment may be smaller than the old equipment, but the size is relative to the location, according to Donahue, and with 52 of the new installations in and around the city, they’re noticeable.
“They’re huge and they’re all over the place,” he said, rattling off locations he has passed over the past month on Arch, North and Stewart streets. “We should have some kind of say about things like that.”
City Manager Andy Walker is another who would have preferred that the new technology take a more aesthetically pleasing form, but he didn’t have much say in the matter, either.
“It doesn’t appear we have the ability to regulate them,” Walker said. “They’re not city of Meadville equipment, and they’re not regulated by us. It’s on Windstream poles, so I suspect any concerns should be directed to Windstream.”
In most cases, according to Morris, permits are not required for the equipment, which does not involve new lines being strung from pole to pole or the installation of new poles.
Walker said the city has received “a handful of calls” about the equipment, mostly from people asking what it is. It might have been nice for the city to have a chance to weigh in on the matter, Walker added.
“I personally think they’re sort of an eyesore,” Walker said, “They’re right at pedestrian and ground level, and they sort of disrupt an individual’s view plane and maybe even, in some locations, the sidewalk.”
One particular eyesore stood out to both Walker and City Council member Sean Donahue: three serving nodes and a cross-connect box all crowded around on a utility pole near the entrance to H.P. Way Park, which is scheduled for major upgrades over the summer. Thick coils of black and orange cables hang from the fixtures, like giant hoses stored after a car washing.
Donahue, who lives a few blocks away, passes the pole virtually every day. In five years, he said, new technology will probably have replaced the devices, but in the meantime if others dislike them as much as he does, they should let their representatives know.
“Lots of people have them in their front yard,” he said. “Tell council and maybe we can do something about it.”
Whether residents love, hate or are indifferent to these new additions to the digital infrastructure, by early fall it should be easier than ever for Windstream customers to shoot an email over the network to City Council.
Mike Crowley can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.