There’s a battle playing out between state and local governments over who should be allowed to regulate 5G — the new mobile technology that will hasten internet data speeds. But at a hearing in Montgomery County last month, that fight took a backseat to residents and experts who entered substantial evidence in the record about negative health consequences from exposures to pulsed, data-modulated, Radio-frequency Electromagnetic Microwave Radiation (RF-EMR).
Note the problems below in red:
Dr. Devra Davis, the president and founder of the Environmental Health Trust at the hearing, said:
“We’re going to be exposing the entire population of this country to 5G without any safety data. There are a lot of myths about 5G and, unfortunately, we’re being sold something for which there are no standards. It’s being built and then we’ll figure it out.”
Davis and others expressed that the radio frequencies from 4G and 5G could be cancerous. Scientists and doctors would like to see more research done before implementing the technology nationwide. Because of that, some local governments have paused implementing the telecommunications hardware until more research can be conducted.
“We have a 21st Century technology and we’re operating it with 20th Century safety standards. Would you like to fly an airplane today that used 20th Century safety standards?”
Meanwhile, local governments are pushing back against the state and the federal government in an attempt to control the regulatory process. However, the struggle for oversight is most prevalent in Montgomery County. In September 2018, the Federal Communications Commission ordered an accelerated deployment of wireless broadband by removing the “barriers to infrastructure investment” and requiring local governments to reduce regulations on the technology.
That FCC Order didn’t sit well in Maryland, where Anne Arundel, Howard and Montgomery County joined more than 30 other jurisdictions around the country in a lawsuit accusing the FCC of usurping local regulatory authority.
“While Montgomery County certainly appreciates the technological advantages that 5G may have to offer, it must be assured that its residents will not face any undue health risks,” the county wrote in its complaint against the FCC.
The county governments also accused the commission of failing to update its radio frequency safety standards. They say those standards were last updated in 1996. But, just this past week, the FCC unanimously voted to terminate ET Docket No. 13-84: Reassessment of Federal Communications Commission Radiofrequency Exposure Limits and Policies and ask for comments on ET Docket No. 19-226: Changes to the Commission’s Rules Regarding Human Exposure to Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields.
“No expert health agency expressed concern about the Commission’s RF [radio frequency] exposure limits,” and others who commented and presented scientific research failed to provide “any specific, pragmatic recommendation for how our RF exposure limits could be adjusted,” FCC staff wrote.
And while Montgomery County is still in the process of appealing the case to the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, councilmembers continue to push for local control to implement 5G before Maryland passes its own state regulatory laws.
In its hearing last month, the Montgomery County Council weighed a bill to implement standards for residential areas. But the hearing was upended by residents who opposed 5G cell towers being placed in their neighborhoods and others who established with scientific evidence that there are negative health consequences from RF-EMR exposures.
“I do not consent to radiofrequency microwave radiation,” Anne Pritchard, a former registered nurse and longtime resident of Silver Spring, told the council last month.Pritchard said she noticed a decline in her cognitive abilities, memory and learning when she had her wireless phone very close to where she sleeps and a gas smart meter on her house.
“After keeping the phone unplugged and removing the gas smart meter, very soon after, my cognitive abilities came back to normal,” Pritchard said.
Other residents, like Carol Falk from the West Montgomery County Citizens Association, object to what the small cell towers will look like in their neighborhoods.
“These 5G wireless systems are unsightly and are proven to negatively impact property values because most people do not wish to live in close proximity to them,” Falk told councilmembers last month.
County councilmembers and wireless industry experts have brushed off many of those points. Instead, they’ve focused on trying to educate residents on how the technology works.
The Difference Between 5G And 4G
Just like 4G that relies on antennas to deliver radio frequencies to your phone, 5G relies on the same 4G antennas plus smaller antennas that are proposed to be attached to telephone poles or light posts within 100 to 200 meters of each other.
5G’s small cell technology can be installed in a number of ways.Provided by the National Capital Planning Commission
“5G is going to bring a whole new world of wireless connectivity to people,” said Jonathan Adelstein, president and CEO of the Wireless Infrastructure Association. “Overall, it’s going to change the landscape and allow for a lot more devices to be connected to the internet at the same time.”
Industry representatives say that the limits of 4G have stretched with the proliferation of phones overcrowding the network and that 5G is needed to reduce the strain. And because the new network is faster, it will be able to boost innovative technologies.
Crown Castle is a telecommunications and wireless company that is working with the major carriers — Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint — to set up roughly 2,500 small cell towers in Maryland. In Baltimore City, the company has set up around 650 towers with a high concentration around the Raven’s M&T Stadium.
But 5G won’t work for some cellphones for a while. For instance, Apple’s iPhone isn’t yet compatible with the wireless network, but some newer Android devices are.
Experts Note Negative Health Consequences from Densified 4G and 5G Wireless Telecommunications Facilities (WTFs) Installations
Before this technology hits your smartphone, some experts are asking governments to do their research.; others are saying don’t do this at all. More than 240 scientists and doctors from 42 countries have signed a letter asking the United Nations to place a moratorium on implementing 5G until more concrete research is complete. The experts cite that densified 4G and 5G RF-EMR exposures could cause negative health consequences.
*Referring to a November 2018 study by National Toxicology Program on 2G and 3G cellphones, Davis said:
“This radiation, at levels you can currently get from cellphones, can cause cancer in animals and should be regarded as a potential carcinogen for humans,” .
Anna Olson is a longtime resident of Silver Spring and a teacher of political science. She said local governments are responsible for protecting the safety and well-being of its citizens.
“This is particularly true when federal agencies, such as the FCC, are completely captured by industry interests,” Olson said referring to a 2015 expose published by Harvard University’s Edmond Safra Center for Ethics which calls the FCC a captured agency controlled by the agency it’s supposed to be regulating.
Crown Castle’s Rich Rothrock said his company tries to meet or exceed the FCC’s prescribed limits for radiofrequency radiation.
“The safety of RFR emission has been studied for over 60 years as the industry has grown and matured,” Rothrock said. “And is constantly reviewed by health agencies and standard-setting organizations like the World Health Organization. To date, those independent organizations have found no established health hazards from exposure to RFR emissions.”
But in 2013, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified RFR as “possibly carcinogenic” and stated that “there is evidence that falls short of being conclusive that exposure may cause cancer in humans.”
In The Region, Counties Vie For Local Control
While at least 28 states — including Virginia — have passed legislation to implement these small cell towers, many counties and cities are trying to set their own rules and fees. Last year, Montgomery County approved densified 4G/5G standards for commercial areas. The map below shows 171 small cell tower and 4G antennas recommendations that have been approved or are seeking approval. Most of the recommendations were submitted by Crown Castle in 2017 and most are for Verizon, but some are for T-Mobile. Credit: Steel In The Air, Inc.
County Executive Marc Elrich also opposed the current proposal for residential 4G/5G implementation measures citing the county’s pending lawsuit with the FCC and the commission’s failure to update their standards.
“The FCC should have already updated the RF emission standards,” Elrich’s spokesperson Debbie Spielberg told the county council.
Elrich also said he was against the current proposal in the county because it would circumvent a review by the planning board.
“These changes are not consistent with county procedures, nor are they required by FCC,” Spielberg said.
Montgomery County Councilman Hans Reimer is proposing legislation to set up 4G and 5G in residential areas. Reimer, who has been at odds with Elrich in the past about zoning measures, said the state legislation to set standards is friendly toward the wireless industry.
“That was our concern about state legislation,” Reimer said. “Is that it was essentially written by the industry, in a way that we did not like. So, in order to fend off state legislation, we need to take local action.”
Maryland lawmakers tabled a bill last legislative session to give the counties time to come up with their own local standards. Adelstein said WIA is supporting a similar bill this upcoming legislative session.
“The state law can set a broad standard in saying, ‘we want to make it easier to put 4G and 5G into your communities’ and then the county can enact its own ordinances that would clarify how that gets done,” Adelstein said.
But Natasha Mehu, legislative director with the Maryland Association of Counties, said planning and zoning in the state are typically left up to local governments.
“Local governments are very much concerned with the wireless industry’s efforts to completely preempt local governments from having a say,” Mehu said. “There’s no statewide bill necessary for the deployment (of 5G).”
Meanwhile, counties are moving forward with implementing the technology. Prince George’s County Council just approved a plan late last month to set up cell towers. County Executive Angela Alsobrooks intends to sign off on the measure. Those standards include prohibiting towers within 30 feet of a home, 250 feet of an elementary school and on any county-owned and operated traffic signals.
“We were very pleased to be able to pass this,” said Gina Ford, spokeswoman for Alsobrooks.
She said it was important for the county to pass its own regulations before the state legislature began.
“We wanted to be able to, if at all possible, get our own comprehensive, well-planned, well-thought-out legislation passed so that we could govern the way that we do it in Prince George’s County.”
Local governments in Virginia are now feeling the effects of a statewide bill to implement 5G. In Virginia Beach, the local government is attempting to gain control of regulations on where small cell towers are deployed on the oceanfront.
Verizon Wireless has already set up a 5G network in public areas of the District. The network can only be accessed with a compatible smartphone.
In the District, the department of transportation has been implementing small cell towers throughout the city. Last month, Verizon put out a map of where people can access 5G in public areas of the city now like downtown, DuPont Circle and the National Mall. Earlier this year, the city put out its final smart cell design guidelines. But the rollout has been slowed after multiple Advisory Neighborhood Commissions have signed resolutions voicing concerns about 5G.
Earlier this year, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and his colleagues on the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee also raised concerns about the health risks of the new technology.
“So there really is no research ongoing,” Blumenthal told FCC and Food and Drug Administration officials during a hearing on the technology in February. “We’re kind of flying blind here, as far as health and safety is concerned.”