Guest columnist Christine Olson: The costs of wireless technology

  • This April 23, 2018, file photo shows the logo for Verizon above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Cellular companies such as Verizon are looking to challenge traditional cable companies with residential internet service that promises to be ultra-fast, affordable and wireless. Using an emerging wireless technology known as 5G, Verizon’s 5G Home service provides an alternative to cable for connecting laptops, phones, TVs and other devices over Wi-Fi. AP

Published: 4/13/2021 12:54:51 PM

In the past 100 years something that cannot be seen, heard, smelled or touched has multiplied in our environment trillions of times. What is it? Radio waves, which are the basis for all wireless technology.

High frequency radio waves (microwaves) are broadcast from cell towers, communicating with antennas in our cellphones. Radio waves from routers fill our homes, enabling “smart” devices, Bluetooth headsets, wireless baby monitors, etc.

Wireless technology provides freedom and connectivity, but most people don’t realize that this comes at a cost. Radiofrequency radiation (RFR) can have a negative impact on our health and environment, as proven by scientific studies.

The massive proliferation of this radiation in our environment is unprecedented and raises the question: is it safe? New Hampshire’s state legislature created a commission to study this question and New York state is about to do the same.

In the past 40 years, cellphone technology has gone from 1G, the first generation, to 4G, the fourth generation, with ever-increasing speeds of transmission.

Northampton currently uses up to 4G, but the telecommunications industry is driving a huge nationwide push for 5G. With 5G, much higher-frequency millimeter waves will combine with the currently broadcast microwaves from 3G and 4G technologies. The telecom industry has not done any long-term studies on the impact of 5G on human health and the environment. None of these technologies have been proven to be safe.

In the past year Verizon has installed about five antennas (“small cells”) on utility poles in Northampton neighborhoods. Several are within 50 feet of homes. Placing small cell antennas in neighborhoods is a new industry trend consistent with plans for the 5G rollout. 5G millimeter waves travel shorter distances than 4G, and therefore require small cells every 500 feet!

No one wants to live under a cell facility large or small. Ample data shows that properties near cell towers lose value. What would happen to Northampton property values if densely-deployed small cells popped up on every other block, outside bedroom and kitchen windows? How would that affect the health of Northampton residents?

As a regulatory body, the Federal Communications Commission is responsible for setting maximum levels of wireless radiation. However, it is chaired by telecom lobbyists and primarily serves the interests of the telecom industry.

For the last quarter century, the FCC has refused to update the safety standards for microwave radiation, ignoring the explosion of scientific studies that identify radio frequency radiation as a potential health hazard. Many European nations allow much less RFR per square meter than the outdated FCC regulations.

In the age-old battle between science and big business over questions of product safety, the telecom industry claims that scientific study of exposure to microwaves is inconclusive, and maintains there are no biological effects other than the heating of tissues. Yet a multiyear, multimillion dollar study done by the US National Toxicology Program proved a positive link between radiofrequency radiation and tumors, DNA damage and cancer. This study was corroborated by the Ramazinni Institute in Italy.

The FCC is currently being sued for refusing to take seriously the results of legitimate scientific research.

In March of 2020, while crafting Northampton’s wireless ordinance, city councilors, to their credit, discussed the Precautionary Principle: “With environmental hazards, you don’t need to wait for full scientific proof before taking action to limit the potential for harm.”

To protect our homes and health from the encroachment of cell antennas, the council should strengthen the current ordinance by requiring: 1) greater setbacks from homes and schools; 2) fees structured to cover the cost of monitoring the radiation emitted from cell facilities; 3) clearly-worded notification to residents of pending installations; and 4) an annual recertification process. Please contact your city councilor about this.

Community broadband, which includes wired fiber optic cable, would provide faster, more secure, and more environmentally friendly connections than small cell antennas (no RF radiation). Plus, it would use significantly less energy than wireless transmission.

If enough Northampton residents say yes to broadband (as nearby hilltowns have) then fast, wired connections could be our telecommunications future. To express your interest, complete this survey online before the April 23 deadline:

For more information and occasional updates, email Safe Tech Northampton at Visit our FaceBook page, Safe Tech Northampton, for links to subjects in this article.

Christine Olson, a Northampton resident, a member of Safe Tech Northampton.

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