By Senator Lena C. Taylor
In 2019, I stood on the senate floor of the Wisconsin State Capitol and argued against the passage of Senate Bill 239. The bill, which was being rushed through the legislature, raised a myriad of questions for me about the installation of 5G cell towers. 5G is the fifth generation of mobile wireless systems that enable digital networks to download data at lightning-fast speeds.
5G not only uses existing 3G and 4G wireless frequencies, but also adds higher frequency — submillimeter and millimeter waves — in order to transmit data at super-fast speeds.
At the time industry representatives attempted to assuage my concerns by telling me that residents already come into contact with millimeter waves. They cited airport body scanners as an example of these waves.
I remember reading that this would be the first time that such high-frequency waves would be used on such a large scale. Even though there were concerns raised about the new technology, the idea of faster home internet and smartphones was just a great seller. Understanding that the 5G technology would also lay the foundation for things like self-driving cars, the case for moving forward was compelling.
The one hiccup with the technology is that, while the higher waves allowed for a faster transfer of data, the waves can’t travel though buildings or bad weather. Therefore, the amount of equipment needed to install 5G was voluminous. Wireless providers needed to put 5G cell towers everywhere from utility poles to parking garages. The technology requires millions of small cell transmitters that emit non-ionizing radiation.
While cities and consumers were excited to get 5G up and running, scientists, environmental justice organizations and parent groups were saying not so fast. Cities were going to get revenue from wireless companies paying fees to local municipalities to attach their cell towers to existing city-owned infrastructure. In fact, when the bill was being debated in 2019, the City of Milwaukee already had agreements with these companies and had about 300 cell towers already in place.
However, I remembered reading articles about neighboring Illinois residents and doctors raising concerns about health risks to include the possibility of cancer and the impact on brain development. Many groups pressed the Federal Communications Commission about how its decision not to review its 1996 health and safety guidelines for wireless-based technologies, including 5G. The Children’s Health Defense to the challenge to court.
A few days ago, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit published a decision that said the FCC failed to provide evidence-based facts in making its determination that residents were adequately protected from 5G radiation exposure. The court further noted that the FCC also failed to acknowledge and respond to evidence concerning harms to the environment of 5G technology. I was concerned in 2019, in part because of the large amount of 5G cell towers in the Milwaukee area. I remained concerned today about the long-term health impacts on our community.