By Senator Lena C. Taylor
In 2019, I stood in the Senate of the Wisconsin State Capitol, arguing against the passage of Senate Bill 239. The bill, which rushed through the legislature, raised a variety of questions for me about installing 5G cell towers. 5G is the fifth generation of cellular systems that enables digital networks to download data at lightning-fast speeds.
Not only does 5G use existing 3G and 4G radio frequencies, it also adds higher frequencies – submillimeter and millimeter waves – to carry data at super-fast speeds.
Industry representatives tried to allay my concerns by telling me that residents were already coming into contact with millimeter waves. They named airport body scanners as an example of these waves.
I remember reading that this would be the first time such high frequency waves were used on such a large scale. While concerns about the new technology have been expressed, the idea of faster home internet and smartphones simply sold well. Understanding that 5G technology would also lay the foundation for things like self-driving cars was compelling.
The only catch with the technology is that while the higher waves allowed for faster data transmission, the waves couldn’t travel through buildings or bad weather. Hence, the amount of equipment required to install 5G was extensive. Cellular providers have had to put 5G cell towers everywhere, from power 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 parenting groups said it wasn’t going to happen that quickly. Cities would generate income from cell phone companies that pay fees to local communities to connect their cell towers to existing city infrastructure. When the 2019 bill was discussed, the city of Milwaukee already had agreements with these companies and already had around 300 cell towers.
However, I remembered reading articles about neighboring Illinois residents and doctors raising concerns about health risks, including the possibility of cancer and its effects on brain development. Many groups urged the Federal Communications Commission for its decision not to review its 1996 health and safety guidelines for wireless technologies, including 5G. Child health defense to challenge in court.
A few days ago, the U.S. DC Circuit Court of Appeals published a ruling stating that the FCC failed to provide evidence-based facts when it found residents were adequately protected from 5G radiation. The court also found that the FCC had also failed to recognize and respond to evidence of environmental damage caused by 5G technology. I was concerned in 2019, in part because of the large number of 5G cell towers in the Milwaukee area. I remained concerned today about the long-term health effects on our community.