Home News Furore over 5G towers at homes

Furore over 5G towers at homes

File picture: Reuters / Dado Ruvic

A GOVERNMENT policy proposal for the rapid roll-out of 5G technology, including on private property, has raised alarm. 

The proposal allows network providers to select, enter and use private or public land for the new network infrastructure. 

Communications and Digital Technologies Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams gazetted the new draft policy this week, which is open for public comment for the next 30 days. 

In the drive for cheaper, faster data and high connectivity, the policy says electronic communication network services could select, enter and use land of their choice for the purpose of “constructing, maintaining, altering or removing their networks or facilities”.

Should a property owner damage such a network or facility, he/she would have to cough up “compensation”. 

The policy says the network provider must notify the property owner with 30 days’ calendar notice in writing of its “proposed property access activity” which must be determined in consultation with the owner. No access fee could be charged by the owner, except in cases of “intrusive electronic communications networks or facilities, such as masts”, when a “reasonable access fee” may be charged.  

The draft policy says widespread coverage was necessary to create a digital economy and society, with “high-speed, high-quality networks” “for advanced connected devices and services, while ensuring rural areas do not lag behind. 

“5G networks will enable autonomous vehicles on our roads as well as various other disruptive technologies of the fourth industrial revolution.”

Rights groups such as Dear South Africa and Change.org have raised property holders’ rights and health risks.

Environmental scientist, Laura Taylor, who has extensively researched electro-magnetic radiation (EMR) measurement, said that while the unfettered access to private property proposed in the policy document would be a violation of a property owner’s constitutional rights, there were also health hazards. 

EMR is a form of energy, found in radio waves, X-rays, and microwaves.

Taylor said: “International researchers have found one of the key findings is harmful skin effects. These are ‘millimetre’ waves and therefore interact with the sweat ducts on our skin. On top of the existing harmful effects already known to exist for all of the other ‘Gs’, this adds new hazards to the package. It is thought there will be major new effects on our skin, which is the largest organ of our bodies. We do not know at all the full extent of this.

“No one has declared this new form of radiation safe and it has barely been tested by the telecoms community internationally. Essentially, they are flying blind on the health and environmental effects and putting profit before people.”

She said 5G cell towers had to be closer than previous cell towers.

“They will have to be around every 500m to work. They operate at a much higher frequency than previous cellphone technology. This will be rolled out on top of existing 1G, 2G, 3G, 4G networks, which will not go away. It simply adds to the increasing sandwich of harmful effects to the environment. The legislation specifically mentions the development of autonomous cars. In the South African context, this is an absurdity. We certainly don’t have a shortage of drivers and this specific technology would require such intensive deployment of 5G we have absolutely no idea of the implications.”

Taylor said insurance companies would not insure the cellular telecoms industry for potential health effects. 

“This is because they know that, as with the tobacco and asbestos industry, the billion-dollar lawsuits are coming and indeed are in process in the US. Given the health crisis we are facing with the coronavirus and what it has cost our people and economy, it is extremely irresponsible of the authorities to be pressing ahead with yet another layer of this proven harmful technology, for the sake of profits and at the expense of the majority. Already thousands of studies and more than 20 000 peer-reviewed papers have shown the harmful effects of EMR caused by non-ionising radiation.”

IFP MP and spokesperson on Communications and Digital Technologies, Zandile Majozi, said that the IFP had called on the government “to exercise precaution”.

“The speed at which 5G has been rolled out has been unprecedented. The IFP has been at the forefront in requesting the government to place a moratorium on the roll-out of 5G until it is proven to be a safe technology.”

Majozi said they had “urged the government on numerous occasions to conduct independent studies, not paid-for studies by lobbyist groups and competing telecom networks”.

The DA’s MP Cameron Mackenzie welcomed the rapid deployment policy. “Despite some wide sensationalist interpretations of the policy proposal, the necessity for a rapid deployment policy is apparent following the withdrawal of the deeply flawed Electronic Communications Amendment Act tabled and then withdrawn at the end of the 5th Parliament.”

None of the major telecoms companies contacted, nor the spokesperson for the minister of communication and digital technologies, responded to a request for comment. 

* Submissions, by September 30, may be sent to The Acting Director-General, Department of Communications and Digital Technologies, e-mail: [email protected]; cell: 083 714 0126 (Mr L Motlatla)

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