Stephen Stuart, a Palo Alto resident who has provided the City of Palo Alto with a free connection to the Internet for 17 years, gave notice on Tuesday (March 29) that a nonprofit organization he works with, Internet Systems Consortium (ISC), will sever the city's connection in two weeks.
The decision is a consequence of the planning department's conditional approval last week of a 50-foot cell tower, to be erected across the street from Stuart's home. The permit is scheduled to be considered by the Architectural Review Board on April 7.
Stuart maintains the planning department chose to ignore city laws when it approved the AT&T tower. City planners have said they have little legal leeway to deny the permit and cannot under federal law deny the permit on the basis of radiation levels, so long as those levels are within federal guidelines.
But Stuart and his wife, Tru Love, said that the city is misreading the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and ignoring ordinances it has in place that would protect residents.
"This is not a threat. This is not a punishment. This is the consequence of the city not enforcing its laws," Stuart said.
That failure "has vaporized 17 years of good will in one thoughtless act," he said.
"This e-mail is to inform you that ISC, which provides the City of Palo Alto with Internet connectivity via the I-Net, is going to terminate transit service for the City (the service of announcing the City's IP prefix to the Internet)," the e-mail to City Manager James Keene reads.
"Additionally, the fiber connection between the Arts Center and ISC at PAIX (Peering And Internet eXchange -- formerly Palo Alto Internet Exchange) will be physically disconnected." Stuart founded Palo Alto Internet Exchange.
Unless the city finds another transit connector, e-mails to and from City Hall would not go through. Any e-mail systems within city departments would also shut down, he said.
Keene said Wednesday he called Stuart after reading the e-mail, which did not mention the cell tower as the reason for terminating the service. He asked Stuart if they could continue to discuss the cell-tower issue, he said.
"That application has not reached the end of its review in the city," Keene said, indicating that the city will look at all issues related to the tower and that there could be opportunities for appeals.
"I understood his concern. This will be pretty tough for the city," Keene said, adding that the city is looking for another service provider. "There will be a cost as far as us scrambling."
The city has used the free service since launching its website around 1994, Keene said. Stuart said he developed the service while working as a researcher for Digital Equipment Corporation, which ran Palo Alto Internet Exchange. He built the first Web server for the city, he said.
When Digital Equipment was purchased by Compaq in 1999, the city risked losing the service, Stuart said. He moved it to ISC. ISC provides Internet connections for the city, the Palo Alto Unified School District, the Media Center, Ravenswood City School District in East Palo Alto, Menlo Park City School District and Sequoia Union School District. Those services won't be affected, Stuart said.
The city cannot grant a conditional-use permit to AT&T because such permits are granted to utility facilities that are essential services to the neighborhood. Wireless facilities are not essential neighborhood utility services, Stuart said.
The tower is also not compatible with the city's Comprehensive Plan because the church property is to be considered for future residential development, not for a commercial tower, Stuart and Love said in a March 22 letter to the city.
"Cities can deny facilities for any grounds except for on the basis of environmental effects if the facility complies with emissions regulations. This proposal must be rejected because the Municipal Code says it must be rejected, and there is case law that supports this conclusion," Stuart and Love wrote.
Keene said he did not consider the cell tower and the city's Internet service linked issues.
"I wish we weren't dealing with this in this context," he said.
Even if the city were to deny AT&T's permit, Stuart said he would not reconnect the city.
When the city failed to exercise its own laws, "it discouraged people from investing in the city. I have invested my time. I'm done," he said.