The Telecoms— Out Of The Playbook of The Tobacco Industry

November 27, 2021

Pity Facebook! The gargantuan cartel stands charged inside and out with manipulating and monetizing the heartbeats and minds of billions. Missing so far from public consideration is another undeniable characteristic of our increasingly digitized worlds. The billions of devices on which WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook depend all rely on two-way microwave emitting devices that have never been tested for safety, especially for youngsters.

On the cusps of major holidays, federal agencies typically put out news dubbed “throwing out the trash” that slip under the public radar. Just before Christmas of 2019, the U.S. Federal Communications Commissions (FCC) quietly unleashed its determination to affirm safety standards for wireless radiation developed in 1996, rejecting reams of evidence about the harms caused by wireless radiation — evidence that was submitted in response to an FCC request years earlier.

In its decision, the agency asserted that phones, cell towers, and the yet-to-be devised network of more than a million new 5G antennas can all safely be evaluated by the standards that were developed when those technologies were not even on the drawing board.

Of course, agencies are free to disagree with submitted evidence. But they are not free to ignore it altogether. They must prove that they have actually read and considered the materials received.

The courts tend to assume that federal agencies are competently making these types of decisions. But not in this case. In reviewing the lack of any serious consideration of the thousands of pages of submitted scientific evidence, the U.S. Appeals Court for the District of Columbia Circuit determined in August 2021 that the agency had engaged in “arbitrary and capricious” behavior for failing to provide a “reasoned record” of decision-making regarding its now quarter-century old safety standards.

Basically the court said, you gotta be kidding me? You’re claiming that you can take 20th century exposure limits and apply them to tech that did not exist when those limits were first concocted. You are seriously arguing that the FCC need not bother to read and evaluate thousands of pages of submitted published expert evidence on risks to public health and the environment, including that of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the U.S. National Toxicology Program, the U.S. Department of Interior and others?

Want to fly in airplanes that rely on quarter of a century old safety tests? Want to eat in restaurants or sleep in hotels redolent with stale tobacco smoke? Or drive in cars without airbags and seatbelts?

There is no debate that automotive, airline, and tobacco safety requirements, once bitterly fought by major manufacturers, have saved millions. We are at the same juncture now with radically evolving telecom technology.

Yes, kindergarteners can learn how to Facetime their delighted grandparents. But we want them to do so without compromising their ability to have children themselves later in life, when and if they want to do so. In a real sense, wired, not wireless, internet connections are the functional equivalent of airbags. They are needed to render electronic devices safer for their users and to reduce their impact on birds, bees, trees, and the rest of us.

Many want answers to some of the questions the judges asked the FCC, including how such outdated last century regulations could be relevant today given the changes in the uses and users of technology. The judges asked specifically about their relevance to young children and how concerns expressed by the U.S. Department of Interior about impacts on birds and other living things could have been ignored altogether.

Here’s how: Although it sets human exposure limits, the FCC does not employ a single health scientist. That agency instead relies on the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Medical Devices. The court noted that the FDA did not consult on a regular basis with other agencies or outside experts on the subject. Instead, to support the FCC affirmation of outdated limits, the FDA released an anonymous cherry-picked assessment of cell phone cancer literature, relying heavily on the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). Despite its high-sounding name, ICNIRP is a self-appointed, self-monitored group, many of whose members have longstanding ties to the very industry for which it proposes standards.

This cozy revolving door between the chiefs of telecom industry and the agency led a to deem the FCC a “captured agency.” Of course, the tobacco and asbestos industries wrote the first playbooks on manipulating government actions and public understandings of its dangers. Using third parties such as the innocently named Center for Indoor Air Pollution, as well as law firms to recruit scientific experts, tobacco influencers set the terms for public understanding of any dangers for decades. Campaigns to undermine evidence of the heart-damaging impacts of passive smoke persisted until quite recently.

It is little exaggeration to argue that the telecom industry makes tobacco look like amateurs. With an eye to hyping doubt, telecom PR mavens have cast aspersions on the multimillion-dollar flagship government study finding clear evidence of cancer and DNA damage in animals exposed to cell phone radiation.

While websites dutifully include information that those with implanted medical magnets should keep wireless devices half a foot away, that information is not widely shared. Multi-media advertising campaigns featuring delighted pregnant women, young children, and others closely gripping a variety of wireless radiating devices directly contradict such warnings.

Of course the public remains confused. That is precisely the point. So long as doubt is fomented, inaction is the result, whether tobacco or automotive safety, or cellphones for young children or those with implanted defibrillators or pacemakers.

In a letter sent to President Biden, experts who have authored well over two thousand scientific publications are calling for an end to this seat-of-the-pants approach to technology.

Within the massive funding bills caroming about Capitol Hill are billions of dollars touted as funding to bridge the digital divide. To bridge the digital divide safely, we need a science-based federal action plan regarding how to identify and reduce the health and environmental effects of wireless radiation.

To bridge this divide without compromising public health, the United States must “future-proof” broadband infrastructure so that it is affordable, reliable, safer, high-speed, and sustainable. We urge that, wherever possible, the broadband system rely on more secure and efficient, wired connections, especially for schools and other institutions where wired connections will save money, promote security, and radically curtail exposure to microwave wireless radiation.

Environmental Health Trust’s Action Campaign

2021 Letter to President Biden and Congress

Ruling in EHT et al v FCC by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

Factsheet on EHT et al. v FCC August Court Ruling

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