The Hawaii County Council will consider pursuing action to bar 5G cellular network development on the Big Island until the controversial technology is proven to be safe.
The council’s Committee on Planning discussed a resolution Tuesday that called for “telecommunication companies and public utilities operating in Hawaii County” to cease development of 5G infrastructure within the county until it has been proven safe for humans through “independent research and testing.”
The resolution, introduced by Puna Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder, comes after two proposed 5G cell towers in Puna were met with substantial public outcry earlier this year. One of those proposed towers is still on track to be constructed near Kurtistown.
Opposition to 5G — which stands for “fifth generation,” indicating the next technological standard for cellular networks — has grown in recent years, with several municipalities worldwide banning the technology outright for health concerns.
While the World Health Organization stated that current research has found no adverse health effects linked to wireless technologies, it also acknowledges few studies have been carried out on the frequencies at which 5G operates.
The WHO is currently conducting further studies on the effects of radio frequency exposure, including at 5G frequencies, which will be published in 2022.
However, despite the dearth of conclusive evidence linking 5G to negative health effects, several testifiers during Tuesday’s meeting claimed wireless networks in general, and 5G in particular, are responsible for a litany of ills, including cancer, diabetes, autism and social unrest.
Some testifiers claimed the technology is secretly a “beam weapon” developed by the U.S. military that will be used against the citizenry, while another testifier drew comparisons between 5G and a conspiracy theory alleging that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is a hoax.
“You have to ask yourself: ‘Will I be able to live with myself if I pass this and it’s as dangerous as people say?’” said testifier Eugene Elmer. “The answer is, yes, you will be able to live with yourself, it will just be a much shorter life.”
Nearly all testifiers praised Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder for raising the issue, with one going so far as to declare the councilman “an honorary member of the female gender,” based on a 2010 statement by the Dalai Lama.
Other testimony was more measured. Some pointed out that the Federal Communications Commission has failed to update certain health standards for more than 20 years, while others pointed out that wireless coverage around the island is largely fine and does not need to be updated.
Only one testifier opposed the resolution. Ikaika Rodenhurst, who is running for Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder’s council seat this year, said all young technologies inherently lack extensive study, but added that the proven connectivity benefits and lack of conclusive evidence of health risks should outweigh concerns for the time being.
Rodenhurst also said that, following disasters in Puna, cellular networks frequently become overwhelmed, preventing people from being able to call family members or emergency services.
After the lengthy testimony, the committee conferred with county Planning Director Michael Yee and Corporation Counsel Joe Kamelamela to determine how much the county can actually do to defer 5G development on the island.
However, Yee said his hands are tied. Because of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, applications for cellular infrastructure that meets FCC guidelines cannot be denied on the grounds of health concerns.
Yee said he gave favorable recommendations to two applications by AT&T for cell towers in Puna because, absent any planning concerns, he cannot legally deny the applications.
One of the cell towers, in Hawaiian Paradise Park, was eventually denied not because of health concerns but because of concerns about a playground possibly within its fall radius.
“I care just as much as anyone else whether it’s safe,” Yee said, but added he can’t fight the federal government.
Kamelamela said the county could possibly impose prerequisites for telecommunication infrastructure applications, but added that any application, once approved by a planning commission, comes with a “shot clock”: If the county takes no action on the application within 60 days, the application is automatically approved.
The committee ultimately voted in favor of forwarding the resolution to the full council, though not unanimously. Kohala Councilman Tim Richards voted against it.
While Richards said the conversation was “interesting” and conceded he understood why the public was worried about the issue, he also challenged Councilwoman Maile David to explain the difference between and the science behind 4G and 5G when she expressed concern about the technology.
However, committee Chairwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz steered the conversation away before David could respond.
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