Pai Proposes Keeping Current RF Exposure Safety Standards

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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Thursday proposed an item to his colleagues that would keep the current RF exposure limits. This comes after more than six years of public input and review, said FCC officials, who also said the U.S.’ RF exposure limits for handheld devices are among the most stringent in the world for cell phones.

Inside Towers has run stories recently about a carrier that reversed an earlier decision and ultimately removed a tower on school grounds because of parental RF fears.

 Asked by Inside Towers why the proposal is coming out now, and whether that has anything to do with consumer fears about RF exposure, an FCC official said: “This has nothing to do with what’s going on here.” He said the agency was “ready to move forward” on this issue now, after first needing, “to cross all the I’s and dot all the T’s.”    

The proposal would establish a uniform set of guidelines for ensuring compliance with the RF exposure limits regardless of the service or technology, replacing the Commission’s inconsistent patchwork of service-specific rules. Pai is also proposing the agency seek comment on establishing rules formalizing its existing methods of determining compliance for high-frequency devices.

Asked specifically whether 5G and small cells are covered, the official said: “This covers all sources of RF emissions, including handsets, tower operations and small cells.” He continued: “We don’t certify and authorize unless they [manufacturers] can show compliance. There’s nothing special about 5G in terms of compliance.” Much of the document is technical, concerning installation and signage, he added. 

If passed, telecoms will need to change some of the formulas they’ve been using for antenna placement and update their signage, he said. But he characterized the item as “not a huge change” for the industry.          

“The FCC sets radiofrequency limits in close consultation with the FDA and other health agencies. After a thorough review of the record and consultation with these agencies, we find it appropriate to maintain the existing radiofrequency limits,” said FCC Office of Engineering and Technology Chief Julius Knapp.

Jeffrey Shuren, Director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, wrote to the FCC, “[t]he available scientific evidence to date does not support adverse health effects in humans due to exposures at or under the current limits…” and “[n]o changes to the current standards are warranted at this time.” 

The draft item includes these main components:

  • Maintaining the current standard: Maintain the existing RF exposure limits and thus resolve the Commission’s 2013 Notice of Inquiry that sought public input on whether to strengthen or relax its existing RF exposure limits.
  • Establishing uniform rules for determining compliance with RF standards:  Establish a uniform set of guidelines, agnostic to the service or technology, using science-based metrics around frequency, distance, and power, to determine how entities assess whether they are in compliance with RF standards. 
  • Formalizing the application of the existing standard to certain frequencies: Seek comment on establishing a rule to formalize the Commission’s existing methods of determining compliance with the RF exposure standard for devices operating at high frequencies. Comments? Email Us.  

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

August 9, 2019

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