Siting Small Cells in a Time of Tech Hesitancy

One of the nice things about living outside the beltway in an average sized American town is exposure to most of the nation’s perception of DC-made public policy. This is especially engaging when the city takes up broadband issues that I helped shape in my humble way.

At the moment, the city of Lakewood Colorado is trying to adjust its municipal codes to accommodate state and federal policy on small cell siting. The FCC first dealt with this issue through the Model Municipal Code developed by the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee, of which I was a member.

Since the release of the BDAC model, both the state and federal governments have  added binding laws and regulations limiting the power of cities to drag their feet or charge excessive fees on small cell permits. This makes some cities unhappy because they’re accustomed to more latitude; but that latitude had been abused so frequently that it had to be taken away.

5G: A New Hope

Along with the unhappiness about loss of authority, cities are also being pestered by an increasingly vocal community of people claiming wireless networks pose health risks. The wireless hesitant community is nothing new: some 14 percent of Americans believe cell phones cause cancer but use them anyway.

But the advent of 5G (and some other factors that we’ll get to later) has opened the door to a new set of health concerns. Every time a new monopole goes into a neighborhood, somebody claims they’re a victim of electromagnetic hypersensitivity, the psychosomatic disorder that makes people think the government’s mind control rays are out to get them. There’s often some tree trimming involved in small cell deployment, and that upsets homeowners as well.

So between councilors chafing for more independence, technology hesitancy, and NIMBYs, there is often more controversy over small cells than there needs to be.  These three factions have joined together into a bootleggers and Baptists and pot dealers coalition to thwart improved mobile networks. I suspect there are other players involved as well, but they’re not visible in local politics.

The Local Story

Lakewood passed a ballot measure in the November that allows the city to offer broadband services. This was not really necessary because the only cities that have undertaken actual construction of their own broadband networks are those that supply electric power, which this city doesn’t.

The measure passed by the narrowest margin of any such measure in the state, so we have that distinction. The issue of 5G came up in the course of the debate because it offers the prospect of greater competition for broadband in many communities. At one point there was even a discussion of small cell density on the mayor’s Facebook page.

Our local technology hesitancy group, 5G Crisis, appears to be larger than those in other Colorado towns. The city’s telecom attorney tells me that such factions are organized all over the state, but ours seems to be the largest. We also have a near majority of technology skeptics on the council.

Where Do the Tech Hesitant Come From?

We started hearing alarm calls about 5G in the community last summer, when the local vaccine hesitancy folks promoted an online conference about its alleged health risks. Last year was a bad one for anti-vaxxers, so it appears that many of them simply pivoted from denouncing vaccines to trying to scare people about 5G.

While the messages on Nextdoor look like a grass roots movement, there is astroturf behind them. An organization called Americans for Responsible Technology supplies the local activists with talking points, collateral, and organizational support. At the last City Council meeting they passed out cards claiming to show “The 411 on 5G.”

Anti-5G Talking Points – Front

Fact check

  1. While 5G is the next generation of wireless, it builds on and incorporates legacy technology.
  2. 5G signals in new bands are more sensitive to obstacles and therefore don’t always propagate as well as signals in old bands.
  3. Cell phones and towers aren’t always on; when idle, they cycle between waking and sleeping instead of continually transmitting.
  4. FCC exposure guidelines were re-evaluated in 2019 and found to be correct.
  5. There are no long-term studies of anything proving safety, but extensive research on 5G shows it poses no new hazards.
  6. Safety assessment of telephone devices has always been a federal job because states lack the expertise and funding to do it on their own.





Anti-5G Talking Points – Back

Fact check

  1. NTP’s controversial study found that male rats (but not females or mice) exposed to unrealistically high 2G and 3G signals produced small numbers of cancers rare in humans but also lived longer than controls.
  2. WHO affiliate IARC reviewed literature suggesting that high exposure to 2G signals might be dangerous, finding evidence suggestive but not conclusive.
  3. Ramazzini tested mice and rats at energy levels 1000 times stronger than measured signal levels in real environments, exposing the chief error in the NTP study.
  4. James M. Hotaling, MD, MS, male fertility and andrology specialist, University of Utah Health: “I’ve never seen conclusive data that would lead me to advise a patient against carrying a cellphone in his pocket.”
  5. Nearly all such studies were published in a handful of “pay-to-play” predatory journals without genuine peer review.
  6. Nearly all signatories to the proposed moratorium are not active scientists working in relevant fields.

Americans for Responsible Technology hides the identities of its principals but appears to be a project of the Institute for Responsible Technology, an anti-biotech and anti-vaccine organization. According to its Form 990, IRT is lead by former Transcendental Meditation levitation teacher  Jeffrey Smith and Swankin and Turner Law Firm owner Jim Turner.

Turner is the president, treasurer, and director of the National Institute of Science, Law, and Public Policy. This organization supplied the Lakewood activists with an “expert” speaker, Colorado University Department of Media Studies scholar Dr. Tim Schoechle, a puported expert in the field of 5G risk. With annual income of $150K and no employees earning $100K or more, NISLPP is barely an organization at all, and is certainly not an influential one.

Why Are They Doing This?

On face value, Smith, Turner, and Schoechle are concerned citizens sincerely worried that 5G networks pose an unacceptable health risk to the public. Turner is a long-time activist in public health, with a career dating back to the ’60s as co-author of Chemical Feast with Ralph Nader.

But Turner has devolved into an advocate of natural health supplements. Smith was a long-time member of Transcendental Meditation, a Hindu-ish sect often regarded as a cult. Following the death of the cult’s guru, Mahararishi Mahesh Yogi, he chose to reinvent himself as a champion of all things natural.

Schoechle is a former engineer who founded and sold a passive wireless company 40 years ago and seems to have drifted professionally after that triumph. In the company of natural health promoters, he clearly stands out as a technical expert even though he has no experience in wireless data networks, public health, 5G, or any other facet of the discussion.

These people are probably just cranky old white men who’ve experienced limited professional success and have axes to grind with the organization of a society that bestowed little love upon them. I doubt that any of them are getting rich by promoting natural living and sowing fear about 5G. Fortunately, they’re not influencing lawmakers either.

 What Are Policy Makers to do About Tech Hesitancy?

The Silicon Flatirons Center at the CU Boulder Law School held a conference recently, Technology Optimism and Pessimism, substantially addressing tech hesitancy. Tech policy has a hangover from the long bender of unbridled consumption of technology Kool-Aid for the last couple of decades.

Where we once saw only the bright and shiny side of tech and never the bad, policy people and the general public are now more attracted to thoughts of the dark side. Schoechle concluded his presentation to the Lakewood Council by referencing Shoshana Zuboff’s Surveillance Capitalism, suggesting that 5G was nothing more than spying machine.

Surveillance is within the purview of the Googles and Facebooks of the world rather than something that feeds the coffers of network service providers, of course. But the public doesn’t make the distinction, so all of us in the technology and tech policy business need to be armed against the lynch mobs that the leaders of the tech hesitancy movement are stirring up.

The Way Forward

I suspect we need to get better at listening to consumer fears rather than dismissing them as ill-informed nonsense. We also need to get better – a lot better – at communicating our aspirations and motives for creating new technology. 5G is in a chaotic state in many jurisdictions these days because we’ve failed to communicate the benefits and to bring the public along with us.

On this particular issue it’s wise to start with FDA’s review (Review of Published Literature between 2008 and 2018 of Relevance to Radiofrequency Radiation and Cancer)  of the most important papers in the 30,000 peer reviewed scientific studies in this field indexed by the Institute and Out-patient Clinic of Occupational Medicine of the University Hospital RWTH Aachen. FDA concludes:

Based on the studies that are described in detail in this report, there is insufficient evidence to support a causal association between RFR exposure and tumorigenesis. There is a lack of clear dose response relationship, a lack of consistent findings or specificity, and a lack of biological mechanistic plausibility.

That’s all you need to know.

UPDATE: A March 2020 report by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection concludes that 5G is safe. ICNIRP is an official collaborator with the World Health Organization.