On Wednesday, the Portland, OR city council took two paradoxical votes regarding the new 5G wireless network. First, they voted unanimously to approve a resolution that would call on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to conduct studies regarding the health risks of 5G technology. Then, in a seemingly contradictory 4 to 1 vote, they approved a 10-year franchise for AT&T to operate in the city. AT&T is one of many corporations working to build a 5G network in Portland.
Before we unpack the latest developments in the 5G saga, let’s do a quick recap of what 5G is, and why you should be concerned.
What is 5G?
5G is the latest evolution in wireless technology, and nearly all mobile carriers have been investing heavily to build the new networks. According to Verizon, 5G will provide “about 50 times the throughput of current 4G LTE, latency in the single milliseconds” and will be able to “handle exponentially more Internet-connected devices.”
5G is considered by proponents as a necessary step to handle the increasing number of mobile devices and other internet-connected devices. It is also considered essential for the development of self-driving cars.
The new 5G network is able to attain such mind-blowing speeds by using submillimeter and millimeter waves at frequency ranges above 6 GHz to 100 GHz and beyond. But while high-frequency waves are able to transmit more data at faster speeds, they won’t be able to carry it very far. That’s why carriers need to build a massive infrastructure of literally thousands of small transmitters to increase signal range and capacity.
With these new 5G transmitters appearing every 2 to 10 homes apart, there is concern over the health risks posed by electromagnetic fields (EMFs). The number of transmitters and the frequencies at which they operate pose a significant health risk that will be nearly impossible to avoid.
The industry building these networks has admitted that they have conducted no studies on the health and safety risks of 5G. The FDA, FCC, and private sector have all blamed one another for this lack of research. Meanwhile, existing studies on cell phone radio frequencies (RFs) and the slower 2G and 3G networks show a host of adverse effects, including cancer.
You can read more about the 5G network and EMFs here. In the meantime, let’s move back to Portland.
Citizens in Revolt Against 5G Technology
The reason that the City Council approved a new contract for AT&T while unanimously demanding safety studies be conducted by the FCC is a legal one. Federal laws and FCC rules prevent states, cities, and counties from regulating these technologies for health and safety reasons. The councilmembers’ hands were tied. They did note that the deal they made with AT&T is significantly better than FCC guidelines.
But Portland isn’t the first to raise questions about 5G networks. Finland, an international leader in cellular technology and one of the key players in the development and deployment of 5G networks, is beginning to see pushback from its citizens. The primary complaint is the negative health impact caused by the higher-frequency waves and the significant density of transmitters required.
Last summer, residents in San Rafael launched a campaign to block carriers from installing 5G transmitters in Marin County, citing health risks associated with EMFs. Later that year, the city of Mill Valley, CA voted unanimously to block the installation of 5G equipment in an urgency ordinance. The move was made after the city received hundreds of calls, letters, and emails from residents voicing concern over the health risks of the new technology.
Although there have been no studies on 5G conducted in the U.S., research compiled by the European Union has found health risks, including cancer. But health concerns aren’t the only reason towns are stepping up to block the new infrastructure.
The FCC-Telecom Affair
According to the Washington Post, more than a dozen cities are challenging federal regulators in court over new FCC policies which offer telecom companies millions of dollars in incentives, restrict the ability of municipalities to charge for access to utility poles, and require expedited review of new permit requests by city officials.
The new FCC mandate is based on fast-tracking the construction of 5G networks, and strips local governments of their ability to ensure public health and safety standards and negotiate construction agreements with telecom carriers. And if you’re wondering why the FCC would show such an aggressive and proactive interest in 5G, I have an answer: money.
According to CNN, Verizon will be launching its 5G service in Chicago and Minneapolis on April 11th, making them the first U.S. carrier to offer true 5G service to its customers. The service will be free for the first 3 months and then will cost consumers an extra $10 each month.
Telecom companies have been clamoring to build their networks faster and better than the competition. Being first to market will undoubtedly bring in new customers who want to have the latest technology and creating the largest network can attract exclusive contracts with device manufacturers who have yet to release a true 5G phone (Verizon’s network will only work on the Moto Z3 and requires a $350 attachment for 5G compatibility.)
But why would the FCC be concerned about profits for major carriers?
Let me introduce you to Ajit Pai, the Chairman of the FCC. Designated by president Trump in 2017, Pai made waves almost immediately by attempting to overturn net neutrality rules established by the previous administration. Net neutrality is essentially the idea that internet service providers (ISPs) can’t charge companies for premium speeds, which would restrict many smaller companies and sites and take away a certain level of choice for consumers.
In 2010, the FCC established net neutrality rules under Title I of the Communications Act of 1934. Verizon successfully sued the FCC saying that they did not have the authority to enforce that level of oversight. The FCC then reclassified ISPs under Title II, allowing for more regulatory authority. Why does this matter?
Because before becoming FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai worked as Associate General Counsel for Verizon. And Verizon badly wanted to repeal net neutrality. At one point, Verizon blocked Google Wallet on their phones because it competed with their own digital payment app, something not permitted under net neutrality rules.
When it comes to 5G, it seems that Pai is again proving to be a friend to Verizon and the telecommunications sector. The mandate rushes the construction of these networks without any safety research and undercuts the authority of cities and states to protect their residents or even negotiate a fair price for use of their utilities.
Pai is not the first FCC commissioner with ties to the telecommunications industry. Tom Wheeler, confirmed in 2013, was so involved in lobbying for the industry that he is the only person to be inducted into both the Wireless Hall of Fame and the Cable Television Hall of Fame. Julius Genachowski, who became FCC chairman in 2009, went on to work for The Carlyle Group, an asset management company that works with telecommunications and media clients.
The revolving door between the private sector and government agencies is constantly in motion. Just look at the FDA and the pharmaceutical industry. Telecommunications companies and tech manufacturers have a chance to make tons of money with 5G networks and devices, and you can bet that they won’t let something a small as cancer stop them.
And as long as they have friends in government, they’ll keep literally getting away with murder. But we can stop them. Just like we saw in Mill Valley and Portland, when enough of us stand together, our voices WILL be heard. You can make your voice louder by writing your representatives, signing petitions, and refusing to support any person or entity involved in cronyism. Check out this helpful list by the EMF Safety Network for more ways to protect your family and stand against 5G towers.