Tired of your lack of connectivity?  Embarrassed that South Korea has internet speeds 200 times faster than we do? There are 800 cities across the nation that are building their own municipal wired fiber-optic networks to bring lightning-fast connections straight to their homes. With their city-owned cabled system, Chatanooga, Tennesse provides internet access to the underserved for $10 a month that at outclasses and outpaces any wireless system. China plans to wire their country ensuring fiber-optic connections to 80 percent of the homes in the country.

The Trump administration has declared that 5G  is a national priority, and media headlines position that the US is in “race” to 5G with China. Yet, just like the arms race of the Cold War, this contest features an ugly underbelly.

Telecom touts tech to “bridge the digital divide” but in reality, companies are slow to bring internet to rural communities. In her important new book, Fiber, the coming tech revolution and why America might miss it, Harvard Law Professor Susan Crawford, calls for a concerted national effort to build a wired open fiber network infrastructure for all cities. Currently, she notes, we have a duopoly with fringe–AT&T and Verizon, with other providers playing lesser roles. In fact, Bruce Kushnick, a former telecom specialist, reports that the telecom industry collected more than $400 billion under the guise of building cabled systems and misappropriated those funds to build out wireless systems. In introducing, “Re-Inventing Wires: The Future of Landlines and Networks” Frank Clegg, former President of Microsoft Canada, concluded that we now have “indisputable technical, economic, and sustainability reasons why wired technologies portend the best and highest future.”

Despite this, companies are bringing the same types of microwave wireless radiation already shown to be harmful to experimental animals and humans directly into neighborhoods, building upwards of  800,000 new wireless antenna structures. However, even those who want greater connectivity do not want these cell antenna installations directly in front of their homes.  

From Mill Valley and Petaluma, California, to Portland, Oregon, to the California and Michigan State Houses, the National League of Cities, and Mayors of San Jose, Santa Barbara, authorities are  taking action in light of the new FCC rule that overrides local control over the siting of these antenna structures. Some cities are banning these structures in residential zones and some are requiring radiation measurements.

“Small” cells are not small. They will bring microwave radiation closer to humans than we ever experienced in the past. Under an inescapable federal government shot clock deadline, towns have until April 14 to develop design standards, and yet policymakers state the Telecom Act of 1996 barred them from considering the health effects. This March, Baltimore City Commissioners even shut down people that tried to raise concerns about health impacts.

As proposed in prosperous communities, 5G-ready antennas will be concealed to look like trendy upscale urban street lamps. Yet no matter how well disguised such microwave-radiating antennas may be, they will immediately emit 3G and 4G, and eventually 5G-microwave radiation all at the same time. Telecom reports clearly document the radiation levels will be significantly increased near 5G antennas.  

Baltimore’s actions are in sharp contrast to a number of international governments resisting 5G  based squarely on health. Recently, both a Rome municipality and the de facto capital of the European Union, Brussels, Belgium made headlines in their opposition to the increased radiation 5G antenna installations will bring. Brussels has effectively halted the proposed 5G pilot program temporarily after significant citizen mobilization against 5G. The Brussels Environment Minister Céline Fremault declared that “The people of Brussels are not guinea pigs whose health I can sell at a profit.”

In fact, internationally renowned independent scientists have concluded that the harms of microwave radiation are established.  The gold standard of testing—the U.S. National Toxicology Testing program reported clear evidence of rare cancers and genetic damage in animals when tested under controlled conditions that are regularly used to evaluate drugs and toxic chemicals. Despite these landmark findings, the FDA has discredited the NTP result and claims that this test is not relevant to humans- even though the FDA had originally nominated this radiation for NTP evaluation. How then do we test drugs or chemicals by the same standards but reject those results when it relates to cell phone radiation?

Within a decade after a California schoolyard cell phone tower was built four students and three teachers developed unusual cancers. Last week, Sprint finally stopped operating that cell tower at the request of the Ripon Unified School District. If 5G wireless systems are set up around the country, those same microwave signals that have apparently caused cancer in children and their teachers will be brought much closer to all of our homes, schools, and workplaces.  

Scientists understand that the electromagnetic pulses from wireless devices can disrupt the natural inborn GPS that allows bees and other pollinating and migrating insects, birds, and mammals to find their way traveling across thousands of miles of ocean and land. Despite research documenting harmful effects to bees, birds, and trees, these “small cell” are exempt from environmental reviews?

Israeli physics professor,  Paul Ben-Ishai advised California Governor Brown that “In light of our work and a growing number of publications showing the frequency range of 5G can have serious biological effects, we believe that current efforts to accelerate the implementation of 5G should be delayed until additional studies are made to assess the critical impact on human health.”

In Wyoming, former President of the American Academy of Family Practice, Dr. Morris Mellion, is joining with Prof. Ben-Ishai in objecting to placing wireless microwave-radiating 3G, 4G and 5G antennas in close proximity to residents. Portland Oregon voted unanimously to seek information on health and safety impacts from the FCC, and demanding that the agency update and make publicly available its research on the health and environmental impacts of 5G–a call echoed by Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal and California Congresswomen Anna Eshoo and Jackie Speier. Similar efforts have occurred in Takoma Park, Maryland, Fairfax and San Rafael, California, among many others. Little Silver NJ ensures homeowners are notified within 500 feet of installation of an antenna.  

As Crawford recently pointed out in Wired Magazine the health issues posed by 5G are real and we need to rethink what we’re doing before it’s too late.   Her book explains that cities like Saint Louis have phenomenally fast internet because they do not depend on wireless for the last mile of connectivity but rely on wired fiber optic cabling.  It is a fact that wired systems are faster, safer, and more secure. Wireless 5G will always fall prey to bad weather, bad people, or bulky buildings and can never approach the speed or security of wired.    

It is time for a national discussion on what’s missing in the rhetoric pushing wireless 5G  Crawford points out that some valuable lessons may be taken from the history of electrification where federal action ensued because nobody believed that the private sector power industry would ever provide electricity to rural areas unless compelled to do so. She is not the only person to find it odd that we currently are expecting private telecom firms to act in the public interest when they have effectively become small governments in their own right, answering to no one but themselves, dominating who gets access to what and when. Yes, building a cabled national system will cost money. It will also provide a means to put unskilled workers to work.    

Let’s elevate that discussion of wired systems now before we fall even more hopelessly behind the world in internet speed. Given federal inertia, towns can start with asking what it will take to build cabled municipal broadband systems and how they can reclaim some of the billions that were already collected for that purpose but misused for wireless instead.

Devra Davis is an award-winning writer and Visiting Professor of Medicine, The Hebrew University, and President of Environmental Health Trust, a Jackson-Wyoming based virtual think tank, and the author of more than 220 scientific publications and the popular book, Disconnect–the truth about cell phone radiation.