As the push towards 5G-powered 'Smart' surveillance cities begins across the United States the Federal Communications Commission has approved a new rule limiting the power of local authorities.
On Monday October 1st, Sacramento, Houston, Indianapolis and Los Angeles became the first cities to gain access to Verizon’s 5G Wireless service. The City of Sacramento has become a focus of Verizon’s nationwide expansion of 5G, or 5th Generation Cellular technology. “We were able to make Sacramento one of our first 5G cities because Mayor Darrell Steinberg and city leaders embraced innovation and developed a strategic vision for how 5G could be a platform for the larger Sacramento technology ecosystem,” said Jonathan LeCompte, Pacific Market president for Verizon.
The rollout 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 amount city officials can charge telecommunication companies (“Big Tech”).
The Hill reported on the new rule:
“All four commissioners offered support for the rule, with Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel dissenting over only part of the proposal. When the new rules take effect, local officials will have 60 to 90 days to review installation requests.
Republicans on the commission say that limiting what they see as exorbitant fees in major cities will free up capital for companies like Verizon and AT&T to invest in building out their networks in underserved rural areas. The commission estimated that the rule will save wireless providers $2 billion.”
However, there are those who are resisting the race towards the “smart” future. 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.
“This is extraordinary federal overreach,” Rosenworcel said of the rule. “I do not believe the law permits Washington to run roughshod over state and local authority like this and I worry the litigation that follows will only slow our 5G future.” The Hill also notes that critics argue that the rush to a 5G future is leading to an increased “digital divide” between those who have faster internet abilities and those who do not.
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.”
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 these cities must have a chance to comment on the health and privacy implications. Unfortunately, it seems most people are either totally in the dark about this situation or welcoming 5G because of the prospect of “living in the future now.”