FCC General Counsel: 5G Conspiracy Theories Hurting 5G Roll Out


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FCC General Counsel Thomas Johnson Jr. says conspiracy theories threaten 5G and the U.S. recovery. In an opinion piece published in the Washington Post, he explains the theories of how recent violence spurred by such theories mistakenly link cell towers to the coronavirus, threatening cell towers and 5G deployment.

Conjectures about 5G’s effect on human health are long on panic and short on science, according to Johnson. “Paradoxically, such fears are likely to exacerbate suffering during the COVID-19 crisis, because the dislocation caused by the coronavirus pandemic requires strong internet connectivity to facilitate telework, remote learning, as well as staying in touch with friends and family. Investment in 5G is thus central to the United States’ recovery, and it’s important for Americans to know that wireless networks are safe.”  

For decades, he writes, the FCC has ensured equipment that transmits information over radio frequencies — from station antennas to cell towers to mobile phones to laptops — is safe for consumer use. The agency reviewed and reaffirmed RF emission standards, which are among the most stringent in the world, in an order issued late last year. “It included findings from the Food and Drug Administration that, ‘the weight of scientific evidence has not linked cell phones with any health problems’ and ‘the current safety limits for cell phones are acceptable for protecting the public health,’” states Johnson. 

The FCC’s RF emission limits include a large safety margin, with exposure limits many times below what scientific studies have shown could possibly cause adverse thermal reactions, according to the expert. He points to the FDA’s website, which explains that prolonged exposure to emissions at higher ends of the electromagnetic spectrum (such as X-rays) can also cause tissue damage through ionized radiation. “But cell phone and broadband transmissions occur at much lower, non-ionizing frequencies than X-rays. There is no substantiated evidence that equipment that emits radio waves at these lower frequencies and complies with FCC standards has any adverse health effects on people,” he emphasizes. 

These findings, however, have not stopped plaintiffs’ lawyers and activists from trying to capitalize on fear and misinformation surrounding RF emissions, he says. In California, a proposed class action seeks to hold Apple liable for iPhones that the class claims exceed federal RF limits, despite the FCC certifying the devices as safe. 

In a second case pending in the same California court, an association of wireless providers is challenging a so-called Right to Know ordinance adopted by the city of Berkeley, CA. “That ordinance requires cell phone retailers to post a prominent notice stating that if you wear your phone ‘in a pants or shirt pocket or tucked into a bra . . . you may exceed the federal guidelines for exposure to RF radiation.’ This warning, which would give any consumer pause, ignores the FCC safety margin that ensures that placing approved devices against the body has no adverse health impact,” asserts Johnson. 

During a recent roundtable discussion at the New York State Wireless Association, Johnson learned one of the chief impediments to extending wireless deployment in the New York City area is local decision-makers’ fear of the health effects of 5G. In his home state of New Jersey, the Trenton city council drafted an ordinance that would ban 5G outright in response to the recent hysteria. Johnson says: “While federal law places limits on the abilities of towns and cities to prohibit wireless deployment, these localities can play an active role in either speeding or delaying the rollout of 5G services.”

He emphasizes: “Bad local decisions could be catastrophic for our country as we continue to face historic challenges relating to the coronavirus pandemic. High-speed, high-capacity wireless networks will be indispensable tools for our social and economic recovery. Under Chairman Ajit Pai, the FCC has spent the past three years freeing up airwaves and cutting red tape to ensure that American networks are prepared for this crisis. But if we delay 5G deployment based on irrational fears and unproven theories, it will only hurt the American people as we plot our path forward.”

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