Fiber broadband, seen as a complex Trojan horse

The Northwest Hills Council of Governments, urged by the well-intentioned local group Northwest ConneCT, is encouraging towns to embrace fiber broadband in their new plans of conservation and development and build out fiber as soon as possible. Towns can already own fiber networks for non-commercial use. But this new initiative would bump that to commercial use too. 

There is a bill (SB 846) being considered by the Connecticut Legislature, now in the Joint Committee on Energy and Technology, co-sponsored by state Rep. Maria Horn (D-64),  which, if passed, would enshrine commercial municipal broadband into Connecticut law. But do towns really understand what’s behind this curtain? 

Hint: Many are fighting related proposals in federal courts because of what rides on these coattails, including august groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Working Group and Sierra Club. And California’s former governor Jerry Brown vetoed a 2017 bill not unlike what SB846 would unleash — small cells transmitting radiofrequency (RF) radiation, a known genotoxin, from every third utility pole very close to homes.

NW ConneCT’s noble purposes are: attract new residents, create/fill jobs, workforce training, better high speed connectivity and cell reception — with fiber the presumed rescuer for our aging population, decreased school enrollment, youth flight to cities, highway (un)safety and more. Unfortunately, their focus is on end-points at the expense of what rides on fiber’s unintended consequences. Many are fighting this nationally, not because of fiber (a true marvel) or even broadband (who doesn’t want more?), but because fiber networks have morphed into highways for small cells that are just like having a cell tower, radiating RF, right outside your door. 

The innocuous-sounding “fiber broadband” is potentially dangerous — financially, environmentally, legally. Fiber will never again be the perfect dedicated system. It’s been kidnapped by wireless convenience’s feckless siren call. A safe, completely wired fiber network may have been NW ConneCT’s original plan, but reading carefully, they are now “fiber-to-the-driveway” with the final connection — the so-called “last mile” — struck by homeowners with various service providers typically via wireless connections. 

And their plan invites piggybacking telecoms to create 100 percent mobile connectivity too, meaning small cell nodes — hundreds, if not thousands — affixed to utility poles in public rights-of-way, transmitting 24/7, without control or informed consent of those nearby. These are highly biologically active exposures.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) RF exposure standards, over 20 years old, are for acute short-term thermal effects (like a microwave oven cooking food) but today’s exposures are long-term, low-level and far below that threshold. 

Other non-thermal research shows effects to: DNA, cell membranes, gene expression, neuronal function, the blood brain barrier, melatonin production, sperm damage, learning impairment, and immune system function. Known adverse effects to humans include infertility, neurogenerative changes, numerous cancers, and heart rate variability. 

For some this is not theoretical. Near towers and in classrooms with wifi, people have experienced headaches, increased noise sensitivity, rashes, nausea, exhaustion, muscle weakness, lower libido, premature bone aging, concentration and memory problems and hyperactivity. Prenatal exposures have led to ADD and autism-like effects in test animals.

Numerous effects to wildlife are seen. Birds suffer disorientation near cell towers. European studies found adverse effects in avian breeding, nesting and roosting near towers, and documented nest and site abandonment, plumage deterioration, locomotion problems, plus death from microwave RF in house sparrows, white storks, rock doves, magpies, collared doves, and other species. Under laboratory conditions, U.S. researchers found non-thermal radiation from standard cell phone frequencies were lethal to domestic chicken embryos.

Other affected species include bats, amphibians, insects and domestic animals — even plant/tree flora are susceptible. Radiofrequency radiation created increased bacterial antibiotic resistance, and fruit flies showed morphological abnormalities and decreased survival. The tiny millimeter waves used in 5G will be particularly devastating to insects and thin-skinned amphibians as they couple maximally with skin tissue.

Once fiber is in place, we cannot legally keep small cells off. We ignore this large body of research — all at current “safety” standards — at our own peril. There has been enormous industry pressure on the feds and states to remove obstacles for ubiquitous small cell deployment for current and next generation telecommunications, which cannot work without fiber optic cable.

Since 2016, the Koch-funded lobbying group, American Legislative Exchange Council, has introduced legislation in every state promoting small cells and overriding local jurisdiction. Twenty states initially enacted it but some tried to rescind after citizen protests. Federal legislation saw over 30 small-cell facilitation bills with heightened restrictions regarding environmental review and historic significance. The FCC also created shortened tiers for so-called “shot clocks” for small cells that can be deemed granted if not acted upon within as little as 60 days. These are major power grabs of public assets in favor of commercial interests with little compensation. There is pending legislation that would remove all liability from small cell providers. We get the risks, they get the profit.   

There are legitimate concerns as we barrel toward ubiquitous cell service, delivering a known genotoxin not too present in our current natural energetic environment. But for how long? And at what price to the biome for human mobile convenience?


B. Blake Levitt is a science journalist, author and communications director at The Berkshire-Litchfield Environmental Council.

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