Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg claim they have not seen evidence of health or privacy issues related to the installation of small cells to launch Houston’s 5th Generation (5G) cellular network. (video below)

On Monday October 1st, Sacramento, Houston, Indianapolis and Los Angeles became the first cities to gain access to Verizon’s 5G Wireless service. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg held a press event unveiling what they called “the world’s first 5g customer”, a young millennial couple living near the Heights area. Turner and Vestberg congratulated each other for being the first to launch 5g service.

The roll out of 5G is expected to herald the beginning of Smart Cities, where driverless cars, pollution sensors, cell phones, traffic lights, and thousands of other devices interact in what is known as “The Internet of Things”. The move towards the smart grid was hastened last week when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved a rule that will limit the role of local authorities regarding the build of 5G networks. Specifically, the rule affects the amount of money city officials can charge telecommunication companies.

The mayors of Los Angeles and Philadelphia opposed the rule and accused the FCC of overriding local authority to regulate the new technology. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti sent a letter to the FCC stating that the rules would override previous agreements established by local authorities and Verizon and AT&T. In addition, before the vote a group of House Democrats wrote to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai asking him to cancel the vote.

Sascha Meinrath, the Palmer Chair in Telecommunications for Pennsylvania State University, believes the rule will contribute to decreased competition. “What’s preventing deployment is not permitting fees from local governments, its anti-competitive behavior from the incumbents,” he told InsideSources in an interview. “If you study telecom history, this is a cycle that happens again and again and again.”

Is 5G safe?

Other concerns of the 5G expansion include potential health risks due to the need for an increase in cellular equipment. 5G technology is reported to be 100 times faster than current speeds but the signal is short so cities must install thousands of new “small cells” on current infrastructure, as well as new equipment. Critics worry about the health impact of these cells. GovTech reports:

“Additionally, the proliferation of small cells has prompted worries over potential health risks, particularly given how close some pole-mounted antennas are to homes. The FCC last updated its radiation exposure guidelines more than two decades ago, based mostly on existing cellphone towers. Citizens in several communities have protested installations, and the agency is in the process of updating its standards.”

The Verge also reported that the “FCC excludes these small cell cites from being reviewed for environmental impacts and impacts on the historical character of an area. It also limits review on tribal lands.” Health concerns regarding the dangers of cell phones and 5G have been prompted by a May 2011 assessment in which the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified cell phones as Category 2B for “possibly carcinogenic to humans“. In addition, in August 2016, the LA Times asked, “Is 5G technology dangerous? Early data shows a slight increase of tumors in male rats exposed to cellphone radiation”.

That report shows that National Toxicology Program researchers released preliminary data in May 2016 which showed small increases in tumors in male rats exposed to cellphone radiation. The rats were exposed to nine hours of radiation daily, in 10-minutes-on, 10-minutes-off intervals, over their whole bodies for two years. The researchers found increased incidences of rare brain and heart tumors starting at about the federally allowable level of cellphone radiation for brain exposure, with greater incidences at about two and four times those levels.

Privacy, a thing of the past

The coming Smart Grid also threatens to wipe away the last vestiges of privacy – all in the name of convenience, novelty, and (allegedly) safety. However, the dangers are largely being ignored in favor of touting the perceived benefits. The ACLU described the surveillance dangers of 5G technology:

“Many of these technologies involve cameras that can be tasked with jobs that range from keeping track of traffic to monitoring when the corner trash can gets full. The problems start when they’re also used for tracking people and their movements. In a city blanketed with cameras — including in LED light bulbs found in streetlights — it would be very easy for the government to track which political meetings, religious institutions, doctors offices, and other sensitive locations people go to and to focus its attention even more on traditionally over-policed communities. This is why these “Smart Cities” are also referred to as “Surveillance Cities.”

When Houston Mayor Turner and Verizon’s Vestberg were given a chance to share their opinions on these matters, neither one said they had seen any reason to be concerned for health concerns or loss of privacy. The above studies (and this piece) has been forwarded to the Mayor’s office, City Council, and City Health officials. No comment has been made thus far.

Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg on 5g Technology
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner on 5g Technology

The FCC and city officials must conduct further studies on the potential health effects related to the roll out of 5G. Also, the people of Houston must have a chance to comment on the health and privacy implications.

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