FCC Retains Current RF Exposure Limits

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UPDATE In August, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai proposed to his colleagues an item that maintains the current FCC exposure limits. After more than six years of public input and review, agency officials said at the time America’s RF exposure limits for handheld devices are among the most strict worldwide for cell phones.

Now, the Commission has made it official.

Late Thursday, the agency released a decision revisiting its RF emission rules for the first time since 2013. The Commission also seeks on proposals to expand the range of frequencies subject to RF exposure limits.

In reaction, Wireless Infrastructure Association President/CEO Jonathan Adelstein told Inside Towers: “Decisions like these are best left to federal health agencies, who are most qualified to make these determinations. I’m not surprised that the limits didn’t change because physics hasn’t changed since the rules were last established.” 

Adelstein said WIA appreciates the work of career expert staff at the FCC who relied on federal and world health experts and have extensively studied this issue. “There is tangible evidence every day that wireless saves lives and protects people in emergencies. I am confident the Commission will continue to make the best decisions for safety and well-being of the American people.”

The item resolves a Notice of Inquiry that sought public input on, among other issues, whether the Commission should amend its existing RF emission exposure limits. After reviewing the record, the FCC said it found, “no appropriate basis for and thus decline to propose amendments to our existing limits at this time. We take to heart the findings of the Food & Drug Administration, an expert agency regarding the health impacts of consumer products, that ‘[t]he weight of scientific evidence has not linked cell phones with any health problems.’”

Despite requests from some to increase and others to decrease the existing limits, the Commission believes they reflect the best available information concerning safe levels of RF exposure for workers and members of the general public, including inputs from sister federal agencies charged with regulating safety and health and from well- established international standards.

The agency revised its implementing rules to reflect modern technology and today’s uses. It streamlined the criteria for determining when a licensee is exempt from RF exposure evaluation criteria, replacing the prior regime of service-based exemptions with a set of formulas for situations in which the risk of excessive RF exposure is minimal. For those licensees who do not qualify for an exemption, the FCC now provides more flexibility for them to establish compliance. And it specifies methods that RF equipment operators can use to mitigate the risk of excess exposure, both to members of the public and trained workers (such as training, supervision, and signage).

In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the agency plans to formalize an additional limit for localized RF exposure and the associated methodology for compliance for portable devices operating at high gigahertz frequencies. That would be on top of its existing limits that apply at these frequencies; the FCC would extend this to terahertz (THz) frequencies as well. The agency also offers to allow wireless power transfer (WPT) equipment under Part 15 and 18 of the Commission’s rules and propose specific exposure limits for such operations. 

December 9, 2019

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