Click on graphic to enlarge. Posted with permission of Einar Flydal.

Environmental Procedures at the FCC: A Case Study in Corporate Capture

No abstract
“With infrastructure including millions of miles of fiber optic cable and lines, thousands of towers, earth stations and satellites, and hundreds of thousands of small cells, 1 the telecommunications industry leaves a significant environmental footprint: wetlands filled, viewsheds marred, cultural resources damaged, and habitat destroyed. As the agency overseeing telecommunications, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates radio, TV, satellite, cable, and both wireline and wireless communications—and associated entities like Verizon, AT&T, and broadcast and radio corporations. It also plays a critical role in providing universal broadband and telecommunications access, and authorizing facilities associated with wireline and wireless build-outs. Yet the FCC fails to fulfill its mandatory duties under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in multiple and significant ways. 2 ….”

Applicants and licensees submit no documentation of their determination that their project is categorically excluded, and the agency does not track categorically excluded actions. With the applicant conducting the initial environmental review of whether the project is categorically excluded by assessing the list of extraordinary circumstances (i.e., the NEPA checklist), as well as preparing the environmental assessment, the burden falls on the public to learn of the proposed action and to raise a potential effect.
But categorically excluded actions, including authorization of certain towers, do not receive public notice; only applications for towers that require registration (generally taller than 199 feet) are put on notice, and those may or may not have associated environmental assessments. In addition to towers under 200 feet not posing an air hazard, these stealth projects that the agency has no record of include small wireless facilities associated with 4G and 5G.
That the public has no access to this information is particularly problematic in the radio frequency context, where applicants are required to meet radio frequency emissions standards or submit an environmental assessment. If the applicants do analyze the checklist and radio frequency studies at all, they routinely categorically exclude small wireless facilities, despite growing public concern about radio frequency associated with such technologies. Without access to the documented checklist, the public has little to no basis on which to refute or comment on checklist conclusions on radio frequency. And given the streamlined process, citizens often find out about facilities only after they are built….”

“Conclusion: Prospects for a More Accountable FCC
Clearly, the FCC’s NEPA process falls short of what NEPA and Council on Environmental Quality require.
• It ignores major federal actions requiring environmental review, such as its distribution to industry of billions of dollars that support build-outs for updated wireless service, or improperly deems certain major federal actions non-major federal actions to circumvent NEPA.
• Its NEPA rules create an unsupported and overbroad categorical exclusion so that, for example, satellite licensing and submarine cable licensing are excluded from review.
• With little oversight or tracking, it delegates environmental review of NEPA determinations to industry proponents of the project.
• It fails to vigorously enforce its rules so that industry noncompliance is rampant.
• It fails to provide adequate notice and opportunities for public comment.
• It fails to make environmental documents, including radio frequency emissions studies, publicly available or readily accessible.
• It routinely ignores or dismisses public comments and concerns and places an unfair burden of proof on the public when it raises concerns.
These practices serve to facilitate deployment for carriers while ignoring environmental rules and the public. Besides environmental costs, the FCC’s approach bespeaks a lack of transparency and accountability that undermines good governance and erodes democracy. It also bespeaks an agency completely captured by the entities it is tasked with regulating.
Recent Biden-era NEPA implementing rules 60 require agencies to revisit their NEPA rules and procedures by September 2023. 61 They also require that the agencies have the capacity to comply with NEPA, 62 something the FCC has to date lacked. Perhaps when Council on Environmental Quality reviews the FCC’s procedures this time, it will scrutinize the rules more carefully and hold the agency to a higher standard for NEPA compliance.”

The Corporate Takeover of the Trump-FCC Is in Full Attack Mode

Bruce Kushnick, HuffPost, Nov 9, 2017   (Part 1 of 2)

The Trump-FCC-AT&T-Et Al. Plan: The Insidious “Wheel of Mis-Fortune”

Bruce Kushnick, HuffPost, Nov 10, 2017   (Part 2 of 2)

Bruce Kushnick is the Executive Director of New Networks Institute (NNI), which was established in 1992, and a founding member of the IRREGULATORS, and has been a telecommunications analyst and visionary for over 35 years. During his career he has predicted that the addition of new technologies and networks would change the way we used the phone networks and he helped launch numerous interactive information markets and services that have now become commonplace.

June 26, 2015

Captured agency: How the Federal Communications Commission is dominated by the industries it presumably regulates

Alster, Norm.
Captured agency: How the Federal Communications Commission is dominated by the
industries it presumably regulates
. Cambridge, MA:  Edmund J. Safra
Center for Ethics, Harvard University.  2015. 

This exposé
provides insight into how the FCC became a victim of regulatory capture by
industry and the implications of these corrupting influences for our health and safety, our
privacy, and our wallets. 
This book concludes with a series of recommendations by its author, Norm Alster, an
investigative journalist, who has written for the
New York Times, Forbes, Business Week, and Investor’s Business Daily.  He wrote this book while serving as a journalism fellow with
the Investigative Journalism Project at Harvard University.
Following are some excerpts that pertain to the wireless radiation industry and its
corrupting influences on the FCC. I encourage you to read Mr. Alster’s entire treatise.
A detailed
look at FCC actions—and non-actions—shows that over the years the FCC has
granted the wireless industry pretty much what it has wanted.
lots of it—has played a part … In all, CTIA, Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile USA,
and Sprint spent roughly $45 million lobbying in 2013. Overall, the
Communications/Electronics sector is one of Washington‘s super heavyweight
lobbyists, spending nearly $800 million in 2013-2014, according to CRP data.
As a result,
consumer safety, health, and privacy, along with consumer wallets, have all
been overlooked, sacrificed, or raided due to unchecked industry influence …. Most
insidious of all, the wireless industry has been allowed to grow unchecked and
virtually unregulated, with fundamental questions on public health impact
routinely ignored. 
control, in the case of wireless health issues, extends beyond Congress and
regulators to basic scientific research. And in an obvious echo of the hardball
tactics of the tobacco industry, the wireless industry has backed up its economic
and political power by stonewalling on public relations and bullying potential
threats into submission with its huge standing army of lawyers. In this way, a
coddled wireless industry intimidated and silenced the City of San Francisco,
while running roughshod over local opponents of its expansionary
… Currently
presiding over the FCC is Tom Wheeler, a man who has led the two most powerful
industry lobbying groups: CTIA and NCTA. It is Wheeler who once supervised a
$25 million industry-funded research effort on wireless health effects. But
when handpicked research leader George Carlo concluded that wireless radiation
did raise the risk of brain tumors, Wheeler‘s CTIA allegedly rushed to muffle
the message. ”You do the science. I‘ll take care of the politics,” Carlo
recalls Wheeler saying.
Graphic: The revolving
door between the FCC and industry
Wheeler, former Head of CTIA & NCTA, is now FCC Chair.
Atwell Baker, former FCC Commissioner, is now head of CTIA.
Powell, former FCC Chair, is now head of NCTA.
Adelstein, former FCC Commissioner, is now head of PCIA, the Wireless
Infrastructure Association.
Graphics: Top House and Senate recipients of cellular
industry campaign contributions 
all begins with passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, legislation once
described … as “the most lobbied bill in history.” Late lobbying won the
wireless industry enormous concessions from lawmakers, many of them major
recipients of industry hard and soft dollar contributions. Congressional
staffers who helped lobbyists write the new law did not go unrewarded. Thirteen
of fifteen staffers later became lobbyists themselves.
preempting local zoning authority—along with the public‘s right to guard its
own safety and health—Congress unleashed an orgy of infrastructure build-out.
Emboldened by the government green light and the vast consumer appetite for
wireless technology, industry has had a free hand in installing more than
300,000 sites. Church steeples, schoolyards, school rooftops, even trees can
house these facilities.
a 2010 review of research on the biological effects of exposure to radiation
from cell tower base stations, B. Blake Levitt and Henry Lai found that “some
research does exist to warrant caution in infrastructure siting” ….
epidemiological studies, research on a wide range of living things raises
further red flags. A 2013 study by the Indian scientists S. Sivani and D.
Sudarsanam reports: “Based on current available literature, it is justified to
conclude that RF-EMF [electromagnetic fields] radiation exposure can change
neurotransmitter functions, blood-brain barrier, morphology, electrophysiology,
cellular metabolism, calcium efflux, and gene and protein expression in certain
types of cells even at lower intensities.”

Citing other studies—often industry-funded—that fail to establish health
effects, the wireless industry has dismissed such concerns. The FCC has
typically echoed that position.

since the passage of the 1996 law, the very opposite has occurred. Again and
again both Congress and the FCC have opted to stiffen—rather than
loosen—federal preemption over local zoning authority ….

would consumers‘ embrace of cell phones and Wi-Fi be quite so ardent if the
wireless industry, enabled by its Washington errand boys, hadn‘t so
consistently stonewalled on evidence and substituted legal intimidation for
honest inquiry?
FCC in 1997 sent the message it has implicitly endorsed and conveyed ever
since: study health effects all you want. It doesn‘t matter what you find. The
build-out of wireless cannot be blocked or slowed by health issues.

federal preemption is granted to pretty much any wireless outfit on just one
simple condition: its installations must comply with FCC radiation emission
standards. In view of this generous carte blanche to move radiation equipment
into neighborhoods, schoolyards and home rooftops, one would think the FCC
would at the very least diligently enforce its own emission standards. But that
does not appear to be the case.
one RF engineer who has worked on more than 3,000 rooftop sites found vast
evidence of non-compliance. Marvin Wessel estimates that “10 to 20% exceed
allowed radiation standards.” With 30,000 rooftop antenna sites across the U.S.
that would mean that as many as 6,000 are emitting radiation in violation of
FCC standards. Often, these emissions can be 600% or more of allowed exposure
levels, according to Wessel.
best ally of industry and the FCC on this (and other) issues may be public
online poll conducted for this project asked 202 respondents to rate the
likelihood of a series of statements … there was one statement of indisputable
fact: “The U.S. Congress forbids local communities from considering health
effects when deciding whether to issue zoning permits for wireless antennae,”
the statement said.
this is a stone cold fact that the wireless industry, the FCC and the courts
have all turned into hard and inescapable reality for local authorities, just
1.5% of all poll respondents replied that it was “definitely true.”

many respondents claim they would change behavior—reduce wireless use, restore
landline service, protect their children—if claims on health dangers of
wireless are true.

in May 2015, more than 200 scientists boasting over 2,000 publications on
wireless effects called on global institutions to address the health risks
posed by this technology.
have suggested that the health situation with wireless is analogous to that of
tobacco before court decisions finally forced Big Tobacco to admit guilt and
pay up.
seems significant that the responses of wireless and its captured agency—the
FCC—feature the same obtuse refusal to examine the evidence. The wireless
industry reaction features stonewalling public relations and hyper aggressive
legal action. It can also involve undermining the credibility and cutting off
the funding for researchers who do not endorse cellular safety. It is these
hardball tactics that look a lot like 20th century Big Tobacco tactics. It is these hardball
tactics—along with consistently supportive FCC policies—that heighten suspicion
the wireless industry does indeed have something to hide.
how does the FCC handle a scientific split that seems to suggest bias in
industry-sponsored research?
a posting on its Web site that reads like it was written by wireless lobbyists,
the FCC chooses strikingly patronizing language to slight and trivialize the
many scientists and health and safety experts who‘ve found cause for concern.
In a two page Web post titled “Wireless Devices and Health Concerns,” the FCC
four times refers to either “some health and safety interest groups,” “some
parties,” or “some consumers” before in each case rebutting their presumably
groundless concerns about wireless risk. Additionally, the FCC site references the
World Health Organization as among those organizations who‘ve found that “the
weight of scientific evidence” has not linked exposure to radiofrequency from
mobile devices with ”any known health problems.”
it‘s true that the World Health organization remains bitterly divided on the
subject. But it‘s also true that a 30 member unit of the WHO called the
International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) was near unanimous in
pronouncing cell phones “possibly carcinogenic” in 2011. How can the FCC omit
any reference to such a pronouncement? Even if it finds reason to side with
pro-industry scientists, shouldn‘t this government agency also mention that
cell phones are currently in the same potential carcinogen class as lead paint?
phones are not the only wireless suspects. Asked what he would do if he had
policy-making authority, Dr. Hardell swiftly replied that he would “ban
wireless use in schools and pre-schools. You don‘t need Wi-Fi,” he noted.
what is the FCC doing in response to what at the very least is a troubling
chain of clues to cellular danger? As it has done with wireless infrastructure,
the FCC has to this point largely relied on industry “self-regulation.” Though
it set standards for device radiation emissions back in 1996, the agency
doesn‘t generally test devices itself. Despite its responsibility for the
safety of cell phones, the FCC relies on manufacturers‘ good-faith efforts to
test them. Critics contend that this has allowed manufacturers undue latitude
in testing their devices.
EPA, notably, was once a hub of research on RF effects, employing as many as 35
scientists. However, the research program was cut off in the late 80s during
the Regan presidency. [Former EPA Scientist, Carl] Blackman says he was
personally “forbidden” to study health effects by his “supervisory structure.”
is cautious in imputing motives to the high government officials who wanted his
work at EPA stopped. But he does say that political pressure has been a factor
at both the EPA and FCC: “The FCC people were quite responsive to the
biological point of view. But there are also pressures on the FCC from
industry.” The FCC, he suggests, may not just be looking at the scientific
evidence, “The FCC‘s position—like the EPA‘s—is influenced by political
considerations as well.”
the FCC has ultimate regulatory responsibility and cannot indefinitely pass the
buck on an issue of fundamental public health. Remarkably, it has not changed
course despite the IARC classification of cell phones as possibly carcinogenic,
despite the recent studies showing triple the glioma risk for heavy users,
despite the floodtide of research showing biological effects, and despite even
the recent defection of core industry booster Alex Lerchl. It is the refusal of
both industry and the FCC to even acknowledge this cascade of warning signs
that seems most incriminating.
is a very rich industry that does not hesitate to outspend and bully
challengers into submission. Meanwhile, amidst the legal smoke and medical
confusion, the industry has managed to make the entire world dependent on its
products. Even tobacco never had so many hooked users.
sustained success in the face of medical doubt has required industry to keep a
lid on critics and detractors. Many scientists who‘ve found real or potential
risk from the sort of microwave radiation emanating from wireless devices have
learned there is a price to be paid for standing up to the industry juggernaut.
A few prominent examples …
FCC‘s network of corruption doesn‘t just shield industry from needed scrutiny
and regulation on matters of public health and safety. Sometimes it just puts
its hand directly into the public pocket and redistributes that cash to
industry supplicants …
General Accounting Office (GAO) has issued several reports citing fraud, waste
and mismanagement, along with inadequate FCC oversight of the subsidy program. Bribery, kickbacks and false documentation can perhaps be expected in a handout
program mandated by Congress and only indirectly supervised by the FCC.

[The “subsidy program,” the Universal Service Fund, subsidizes various technology programs at public cost.]
pervasive and troubling as it has been—is just one of the problems with the
programs of universal service. It may not even be the fundamental problem. More
fundamental issues concern the very aim, logic and efficiency of programs to
extend broadband and wireless technology at public expense. Though the aims of
extending service to distant impoverished areas seem worthy on the surface,
there are many reasons to think the major beneficiaries of these programs are
the technology companies that win the contracts.

the FCC, prodded by an
industry ever on the lookout for incremental growth opportunities, is ignoring
the health of youngsters to promote expanded Wi-Fi subsidies in schools across
the U.S.
a captured agency, the FCC is a prime example of institutional corruption.
Officials in such institutions do not need to receive envelopes bulging with
cash. But even their most well-intentioned efforts are often overwhelmed by a
system that favors powerful private influences, typically at the expense of
public interest.

the auctions of electromagnetic spectrum, used by all wireless communications
companies to send their signals, have yielded nearly $100 billion in recent
years. The most recent auction to wireless providers produced the unexpectedly
high total of $43 billion. No matter that the sale of spectrum is contributing
to a pea soup of electromagnetic “smog” whose health consequences are largely
unknown. The government needs money and Congress shows its appreciation with
consistently pro-wireless policies.
Science is often the catalyst for meaningful regulation.
But what happens when scientists are dependent on industry for research
funding? Under pressure from budget cutters and deregulators, government
funding for research on RF health effects has dried up. The EPA, which once had
35 investigators in the area, has long since abandoned its efforts.
85 Numerous
scientists have told me there‘s simply no independent research funding in the
U.S. They are left with a simple choice: work on industry-sponsored research or
abandon the field.

… an FCC with public interest commissioners is an idea
worth consideration. It would at least require party apologists to defend how
they so consistently champion the moneyed interests that have purchased
disproportionate access and power in Washington.