The Story of 5G in Historic Pensacola 

Guest Post by John Herron 

I care about the tsunami of 5G poles flooding neighborhoods because they impact aesthetics and reduce property values. Verizon subcontractors planted survey flags in a neighbor’s front yard last summer. There was no prior notification and very little information provided to the public about 5G technology coming to our neighborhood. Before this, we were working with the power company to underground utility lines along the street. New poles with obtrusive antennas will ruin neighborhood aesthetics and muck up the streets, sidewalks and front yards of our historic neighborhood. And they decrease property values substantially. 

I learned the primary purpose of 5G infrastructure isn’t really to increase internet speeds, but to enable a ‘smart city’ concept that promotes machine-to-machine communications. It’s not about connecting us to each other, but more about connecting machines to machines and surveillance devices that don’t necessarily serve us but gather data from us. I also learned we can get much faster internet speed with fiber optic cable wired to our homes. Fiber wired to the home is a faster, cheaper and more energy efficient alternative. From a policy perspective, the lighting fast speeds and higher bandwidth available with fiber attracts tech development. I like this idea because I support tech that serves our neighborhoods and communities. 

More important than aesthetics, however, is health. I studied independent peer-reviewed literature and learned what federal agencies like the National Institute of Health (NIH) have to say. As a former electronic warfare expert in the Navy, I was keenly aware of the capabilities of high-power radiofrequency (RF) radiation in combat and the need to control the electronic spectrum in battle. It’s the stuff of Tom Clancy thrillers. Even though I flew aircraft equipped with a protective canopy laced with a metallic layer to guard against radiation, I had not given the health impacts of non-ionizing radiation much consideration. What’s the big deal, I thought … surely oversight agencies will protect us. 

They don’t.

With a 5G antenna planned a block away, and two young children, I studied what independent researchers from prestigious institutions like the University of Washington, Washington State University, Michigan Tech, Georgia Tech, and many other institutions, say about the dangers of chronic exposure to non-ionizing radiation. I read about the NIH National Toxicology Program Report that found clear evidence linking RF radiation to cancer and also DNA effects. I learned these results were confirmed by a similar study conducted at the Ramazzini Cancer Institute. Oncologists in peer-reviewed literature are now calling for RF radiation to be classified a Group 1 carcinogen. I was floored.

A captured agency, a captured city

Furnished with knowledge, I talked with neighbors, shared I learned, and quickly realized many had similar concerns. We learned cities and counties are hindered by Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations through the preemption doctrine, and some states passed onerous preemption laws written by telecommunications lawyers for the telecommunications industry. My city, too, had a local ordinance that seemed to be written by industry lawyers. I then learned the FCC is perhaps the most industry-influenced federal agency in existence, and was startled when I read the special investigation by Mark Hertsgaard and Mark Dowie, “How big wireless made us think that cell phones are safe”, The Nation, Mar 29, 2018. The FCC is a captured agency

Then I learned Pensacola was one of very few cities to support the FCC’s preemption proposals and was cited three times in FCC Order 18-133. Subsequently, the former Pensacola Mayor was awarded the “5G Wireless Champion Award” by CTIA, the wireless industry lobbying association. 

The Pensacola Mayor wrote a guest opinion with FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr promoting the benefits of 5G. “Instead of relying on those large, 200-foot towers that marked 4G deployments of the past, 5G will run mostly on new ‘small cells,’ which can be no larger than a small backpack and attach to existing light poles,” they wrote (Pensacola News Journal, Sep 24, 2018).  But the Mayor either misunderstood 5G infrastructure, misrepresented it, or simply parroted the wireless industry pitch because:  

(1) 3G and 4G towers remain; 

(2) more 5G macrocell towers are installed that are 200 to 400 feet tall with extremely powerful electric support equipment;  

(3) small cell poles are 32 to 50 feet tall (anything but small); 

(4) the 5G small cell range, or service area, in our region is 250 to 750 feet, so Pensacola will probably need hundreds and perhaps thousands of these small cell poles; 

(5) the combined size of the antenna and supporting equipment can be 34 cubic feet pursuant to Florida’s small cell statute, or the size of a large refrigerator; and 

(6) the plans for a 5G collocation a block from my home include three 5G panel antennas and one omni antenna on top, a bunch of electrical support equipment, and an additional post in the middle of the public right-of-way. It’s terrible.


Talk with local elected officials and put them on notice 


As parents and responsible citizens, we must push back against elected officials who unknowingly or blindly follow the wishes of the telecommunications industry. A public conversation about 5G and potentially harmful RF radiation is important because Big Telecom plans to operate 5G at different spectrum ranges and blanket our neighborhoods with a web of RF radiation like never before. If we could see 5G radiation with our eyes, I think everyone would be astonished by what is occurring in our neighborhoods. But we can’t. There are plans to include frequencies up to 300 GHz, and that’s in the millimeter wave frequency range. 

Government reports of military personnel exposed to non-thermal microwave radiation decades reveal it’s very dangerous and round 19 neuropsychiatric effects and depression. Recent reports by Dr. Martin Pall of Washington State University, Dr. Henry Lai of the University of Washington, and others, have found biological markers indicating the adverse human effects of non-thermal radiation that include DNA damage, immune response, inflammatory response, and behavior issues. This month, Dr. Ronald Kostoff of Georgia Tech said “far more research and testing of potential 5G health effects under real-life conditions is required before further rollout can be justified.” As a parent, this scares me.

Conversations about the potential health impacts of RF radiation are important. On the one hand, the 1996 Telecommunications Act restricts elected officials from regulating on the basis of the environmental effects of the RF emissions so long as those emissions comply with FCC regulations. On the other hand, elected officials are duty bound to protect the health, safety and welfare of constituents. Talk with them, give them the science, and make them choose.

The wireless industry will keep pushing to get everything it wants. In FCC Docket 19-250, Big Wireless asked the FCC to re-interpret the phrase “substantial change” to enable Verizon, AT&T, and others, to grow existing 5G poles ten feet taller, expand six feet wider, and substantially increase equipment on each pole – and be automatically “deemed granted”. They sought “compound expansions” when collocating or replacing equipment. They sought to restrict the ability of local governments to require RF testing. Mayor Sandra Welch of Coconut Creek got it right, when she said: “Above all others, to the extent that the petitions support preventing the City from requiring measurements of RF radiation from cell towers for compliance with the FCC standards, that is simply irresponsible and unconscionable.” 

What can we do? 

  • Talk. Learn about the emerging science associated with chronic exposure to non-ionizing radiation and communicate talk with your neighbors. The more we talk, the stronger our community becomes. 
  • Communicate with local elected officials. Tell them our concerns about 5G and ‘smart city’ technology. Give them solutions. It’s important to put your concerns in writing, send an email, and ask to meet in person with small groups. It’s very important to exercise your collective voice. 
  • Tell local elected officials about liability exposure. Large reinsurers now recognize RF radiation claims as a high impact emerging risk. Ask about insurance coverage for the city, and whether there is specific coverage for RF radiation claims through a pollution insurance policy or an insurance rider. Ask whether there is third-party insurance from wireless companies to protect the City against potential claims from other parties. 
  • Propose resolutions to restore local authority and encourage local elected official to push-back against the excessive power exercised by lobbyists. Every city should support Representative Anna Eschoo’s H.R. 530 to restore local authority. It’s also important to oppose S.B. 1699, which would further preempt local authority over wireless facilities on taxpayer-funded property. 
  • Resistance is not futile. Keene, New Hampshire instituted a temporary moratorium on processing 5G applications until a state panel releases a study on the environmental and health impacts of 5G technology. Keene considered the risks of litigation from the wireless industry against the risks to public health. 
  • Don’t become too entangled in debating health. Regardless of the merits on both sides, causation is always difficult to show. Also, realize a strategy of Big Wireless (like Big Tobacco before it) is to keep the argument going. Realize the FCC is the regulating agency and defers to the FDA. The FDA expresses concern, then tells the industry more research is needed. The industry doesn’t fund research, then defers to the FCC. It’s like the scene from The Pink Panther Stikes Again

Clouseau: Does your dog bite?

Hotel clerk: No. [Clouseau bows down to pet dog … dog bites Clouseau.]

Clouseau: I thought you said your dog does not bite! 

Hotel clerk: That is not my dog.   

  • Keep learning about 5G and ‘smart city’ technology. In the supposed race with China, while the whole world was distracted by a global pandemic, the FCC granted critical frequency spectrum to Ligado Networks who intends to transmit mid-band frequency spectrum for 5G from the ground (more towers). The FCC granted the application despite strong objections from the Department of Defense, and now jeopardizes national security and economic security. The FCC’s decision creates enormous risk and is yet another example of an agency beholden to industry. Here’s a link to the hearing: The Impact of the FCC’s Ligado Decision on National Security, May 6, 2020. And here’s a synopsis from CNBC: Pentagon officials slam FCC’s Ligado 5G decision, citing national security risks, by Amanda Macia, CNBC, May 6, 2020. 
  • Challenge wireless facility applications. In Pensacola, Verizon and AT&T are bombarding us with 5G cell pole and collocation applications when city resources are stretched thin and people are stressed at the height of a global pandemic. It’s shameful.
  • Learn about the financial motivations of Big Wireless and the revenue generating potential of “surveillance capitalism”. In a seminal work, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, Harvard Professor Shoshana Zuboff explains how data is harvested through this new technology and sold to third parties for profit. She details how Verizon, AT&T and Comcast are shifting their business models from fee-for-service to data harvesting for profit (our data) – similar to Google and Facebook before them. 
  • Resistance is not futile. Google abruptly abandoned a ‘smart city’ project after Toronto citizens demanded more transparency and oversight over data collected through ‘smart city’ technology. Smart city = surveillance city, and 5G enables smart city technology. “No matter what Google is offering, the value to Toronto cannot possibly approach the value your city is giving up. It is a dystopian vision that has no place in a democratic society,” said BlackBerry co-found Jim Balsille. Google affiliate Sidewalk Labs abruptly abandons Toronto smart city project, by Leyland Cecco, The Guardian, May 7, 2020.  

I hope you enjoy the video, and the conversation I had with John Singley of Studio 850

John Herron is a former naval aviator and resident of Pensacola. He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and earned a J.D. from Temple Law School. 

Share Source: Environmental Health Trust