Council exercises caution in regard to 5G development

  • CHUNG

  • KANEALI‘I-KLEINFELDER

The Hawaii County Council resolved Wednesday to forestall any development of 5G infrastructure on the Big Island until the controversial technology is proven to be safe.

After hearing hours of public testimony decrying the supposed health risks of the new cellular network technology, the council voted 8-1 to approve a resolution calling for “telecommunication companies and public utilities operating in Hawaii County” to halt any 5G development until independent research and testing concludes it is safe for humans.

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Several other counties and cities throughout the U.S. have banned 5G — the fifth generation of cellular network technology, which is estimated to transmit data 20 times faster than current 4G networks — because of increasing public skepticism about the technology’s safety. On the Big Island, two proposed 4G cellular towers in Puna caused public outcry for fear of health risks, which some testifiers Wednesday said are less severe than the risks posed by 5G.

All of the dozens of testifiers who commented on the resolution were strongly in support of curbing 5G, citing potential health risks ranging from cancer to ecological collapse to disruptions to “energy fields” within the human body.

“They’re trying to kill us,” one testifier said about the telecommunications companies developing the technology.

While the World Health Organization has found no conclusive link between wireless technologies and adverse health effects, there have been few studies conducted at the frequencies at which 5G operates. The WHO will publish further studies on 5G frequencies and their effects in 2022.

Corporation Counsel Joe Kamelamela delivered a letter to the council discussing possible options for how to enforce the resolution — as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, health concerns are not sufficient grounds to deny applications for cellular infrastructure that meets Federal Communications Commission guidelines.

While Kamelamela suggested the county could require documentation from telecommunication companies proving their infrastructure was tested and proven to have no health risks, he also suggested bringing the matter to the state’s representatives in the U.S. Congress to seek an investigation of the technology at the federal level.

Council members were largely supportive of the resolution.

Puna Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder, who introduced the resolution, said he was responding to widespread public concerns and is not anti-technology.

“This resolution has nothing to do with our existing infrastructure,” Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said. “We don’t need 5G for our phones to work right now. It’s just that no study to date proves it’s safe.”

Council Chairman Aaron Chung of Hilo said he supported the resolution despite also being in strong support of building up the county’s digital infrastructure.

“Every minute of our lives, we’re exposed to dangerous things,” Chung said. “That doesn’t mean we have to expose ourselves to more of them,” he went on, adding that he thinks it best to err on the side of caution and ensure the technology is safe before pursuing it.

The sole dissenting voice on the council came from Kohala Councilman Tim Richards, although he opposed the resolution on the grounds it does not go far enough.

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“By stating this is specifically against 5G, it implies that 4G is completely safe,” Richards said before arguing that the county could look into scrapping all cellular infrastructure on the island and instead invest in a fiber optic network.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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