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The U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee last month advanced seven bills that lawmakers said are intended to streamline and speed up the deployment of wireless infrastructure across the country.
But critics claim deployment of wireless infrastructure — rather than fiber optics, which they claim is a safer, superior technology — was likely to exacerbate, not solve, the digital divide and will serve the interests of the wireless industry, not the interests of U.S. citizens.
“Lawmakers are claiming that they are trying to eliminate regulatory barriers, but instead they’re creating bills that favor the wireless industry,” said technology attorney Odette Wilkens.
“The phrase ‘reducing regulatory barriers’ is a phrase being used as a euphemism to erect barriers against local government and residents, to take away their right to hearings and their right to be heard.
“In fact, regulations are designed to protect local government power and residents’ health, safety and welfare, and to preserve residents’ right to due process.”
“This is no time to speed up and increase wireless deployment as if it’s a panacea for connectivity,” Polansky said.
According to Polansky, the federal bills are “more evidence” that elected officials are “captured by telecom” because they facilitate the telecommunication industry’s wireless deployment initiatives — including the rollout of 5G — despite evidence of harm from wireless radiation.
One of the bills passed last month, H.R.3565, would reauthorize the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Spectrum Auction Authority, which allows the agency to sell licenses and/or permits for use of the electromagnetic spectrum and to use that money “for communications and technology initiatives, and for other purposes.”
The agency historically has overseen this competitive bidding process between telecommunication actors, but the agency’s authority to auction spectrum licenses expired on March 9.
Reauthorizing it is “critical to ensuring adequate access to 5G services and raising revenue to pay for new legislation,” according to Jeffrey Westling, director of technology and innovation policy at the American Action Forum.
The other six bills, if passed, would expedite and streamline the process of evaluating telecommunication companies’ proposals for the deployment of wireless broadband, and set up digital systems for tracking the deployment of wireless infrastructure.
According to House Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the bills are necessary for closing the “digital divide” so that all Americans have access to high-speed internet.
“In order to deploy broadband, providers need to go through burdensome permitting processes at the federal, state, and local level and the time to receive approval on a permit can range from several months to several years.
“Our legislation would cut the red tape and ensure that this money can reach rural, unserved Americans quickly.”
The seven bills will be scheduled for a vote on the House floor.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s press secretary did not respond by deadline to The Defender’s request for more information regarding when the bills would likely be scheduled.
Solving the digital divide — a ‘cruel hoax’
Cox told The Defender:
“Wireless broadband, especially the kinds of basic services offered to low-income families, is notoriously slow, unreliable, and unable to meet the demands of present and future digital communications.
“Also, wireless networks are easily hacked, causing security and privacy concerns.”
In contrast, fiber offers “greater capacity, predictable performance, lower maintenance costs, and a longer technological lifetime than wireless technologies,” Cox said, adding that “fiber service is not degraded by line-of-sight issues and is not affected by capacity issues.”
A June 2020 U.S. Government Accountability Office report concluded wireless 5G deployment is likely to exacerbate disparities in accessing telecommunications services.
Additionally, Polansky pointed out that the FCC has yet to comply with a court-ordered mandate to explain how the agency determined its current guidelines adequately protect humans and the environment against the harmful effects of exposure to radiofrequency (RF) radiation.
Lawmakers are ignoring “clear and convincing evidence of risks” by considering it permissible and necessary to expose people to “inescapable hazardous electromagnetic radiation (EMR) pollution while hundreds of scientists and organizations have called for a revision of the limits for better protection of humans and the environment.”
“Where and when can we expect service to the public’s safety and welfare?” she asked. “The answers are not in these bills.”
Polansky said a “sensible” bill would be for the federal government to mandate that each state have a registry to record, track and monitor reported cases of electromagnetic sensitivity (EMS).
People who are electromagnetically sensitive or EMS-disabled suffer from a sensitivity to wireless radiation that makes living in a wireless world intolerable.
Children’s Health Defense (CHD) has repeatedly — first in May 2022, again in June 2022 and most recently in April 2023 — led advocacy groups in submitting comments to the FCC, urging the agency to prevent digital discrimination by accommodating the electromagnetically sensitive in its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) rules.
The FCC has yet to issue an order adopting DEI rules.
California bills ‘recklessly speed up’ permitting process
Meanwhile, two “pro-telecom” bills recently passed by the California Assembly are being reviewed by the California Senate, Cox said.
Cox called one of the bills — AB1065, which passed May 30 on the Assembly floor — the “greedy telecom bill” because it would allow telecom companies to use taxpayer funds for wireless broadband projects instead of fiberoptic connections.
The other bill — AB965, which passed May 22 on the Assembly floor — would allow telecommunications companies to get permits for wireless broadband projects more easily and more quickly by allowing them to submit up to 50 antenna applications at the same time and by placing strict deadlines on local authorities for approving them.
If local authorities are unable to grant approval in the allotted time, the bill states the applications will all automatically be “deemed approved.”
The bills passed through the Assembly before many citizens were aware of them, Cox said.
“Now we’re on it and there is a big push to contact the senators to say no,” she said.
The EMF Safety Network told McGuire:
“AB 1065, derails the public process of planning and implementing the expenditure of the federal dollars on broadband by hijacking dollars designated for WIRED broadband.
“AB 965, recklessly speeds up the permitting process for antenna approval so for-profit wireless can carpet areas using the federal dollars.”