Federal 5G Rules Raise Concern for Berks County, Pa., Leaders

The loss of local control around the placement of so-called small cell antennas and questions about their long-term health risks is getting pushback from at least one commissioner and some state lawmakers.

by Karen Shuey, Reading Eagle / August 12, 2019
e.Republic/David Kidd

(TNS) — A big technology shift is underway as wireless companies launch the next generation of service.

This transition to new fifth-generation cellular networks — known as 5G for short — will usher in a new era of wireless technology by offering mobile internet speeds that will let people download entire movies within seconds, deliver signals more reliably than earlier cellular networks and most likely change the way many devices send and share information.

Many officials in the United States, including President Donald Trump, view 5G technology as a competitive edge in the global economy. The network has the potential to run roughly 20 times faster than the current 4G experience, which they believe could help spread the use of artificial intelligence and virtual reality.

"The race to 5G is on and we must win," Trump said during a press conference in April during which he laid out a number of initiatives focused on accelerating and incentivizing investments in the technology. "Secure 5G networks will absolutely be a vital link to America's prosperity and national security in the 21st century."

But not everyone is as enthusiastic as the president about the 5G wave.

Berks County commissioners Chairman Christian Y. Leinbach said he has two big concerns about a Federal Communications Commission ruling earlier this year that would streamline deployment of these small cells in communities throughout the country. The first concern, he said, is that the ruling curtails local authority over public rights-of-way and the second concern is that it fails to consider possible health risks from radiation emitted by the transmitters that carry the signals.

Lawmakers respond

Bills to maintain local control over rights of way have been introduced in Washington and Harrisburg.

The Wireless Small Cell Siting Legislation has been offered in the state House by Rep. Frank Farry, a Bucks County Republican. It would preserve local government authority over zoning and land use, including the ability to approve wireless infrastructure consistent with common-sense limitations. And, in the U.S. House, the Accelerating Wireless Broadband Development by Empowering Local Communities Act of 2019 was proposed by Rep. Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat. Eshoo's bill would effectively dismantle the FCC ruling.

Leinbach said that more and better research about the possible health risks from radiation emitted by the transmitters is needed before wireless companies begin installing thousands of small base stations — some just the size of smoke detectors — on utility poles and buildings to pass 5G signals along.

"There are legitimate health concerns relative to public safety," he said. "I have talked to a number of people, ranging from experts in the cellular field to experts in electronics, and I'm convinced that there are reasons to be concerned. These are high-capacity cells that are extremely powerful and put out radiation."

Over the years, a large number of studies have been performed to assess the potential harmful risks of mobile technology. Public officials, including those at the World Health Organization, have said that no adverse health effects have been established.

But officials at WHO acknowledged that all radiofrequency radiation is classified as "a possible carcinogenic" and stated that the increasing use of mobile technology and the lack of data for use over time periods longer than 15 years warrant further research.

©2019 The Reading Eagle (Reading, Pa.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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