Streetlight poles in San Francisco could start producing money under a scheme that also promises to light up city residents' mobile phones with expanded service.
The City is planning to bring in more than $1 million a year by allowing private telecommunications companies, for a fee, to install wireless antennas for mobile networks on some of San Francisco's 16,800 publicly owned street poles.
Certain telecommunications companies have already approached The City to ask about putting “outdoor distributed antennae systems” — low-frequency antennas connected by fiber to wireless carriers' hubs — on city-owned property like light poles, according to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.
Similar equipment, used in urban areas where traditional cell towers can't be installed, is already in use all over The City, including on the rooftops of privately owned buildings and churches, as well as light poles owned by PG&E.
PG&E owns about 40 percent of the streetlights in The City. The rest are publicly owned.
Renting out publicly owned light fixtures to telecom carriers could bring The City $4,000 a year per pole, according to Barbara Hale, the SFPUC's assistant general manager for power.
However, current city policy does not allow for city-owned poles to be used by for-profit entities.
That is set to change under an initiative recently approved by the SFPUC, where telecom companies will have the opportunity to rent out space on light poles for mobile network antennas for 12 years at a stretch.
The City's $4,000-a-year installation fee would increase by 4 percent each year.
Only the SFPUC's newer-style standard steel poles would have the equipment installed.
Historic light poles, such as the ones seen on Market Street near the Powell Street cable car turnaround, are not eligible to have the antennae installed under the current scheme.
Once installed, the digital antennas would consist of a rounded box on top of the pole with two smaller rectangular boxes affixed to the side, Hale said. Mobile carriers would also be required to install four strands of fiber per pole for use by The City.
The SFPUC is expected to start receiving applications from mobile carriers to use city poles soon.
Any application to install antennas would also be reviewed by The City's Department of Public Health, which is tasked with ensuring that the antennas comply with federal emissions standards.