5G needs public campaign: Telstra

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

The government must launch a large-scale public awareness campaign to counter “misinformation” about the health risks associated with 5G technology, Australia’s largest telecommunications company says.

The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Communications and the Arts is conducting an inquiry into the deployment, adoption and application of 5G in Australia.

The committee has attracted large numbers of submissions focused on the supposed health concerns associated with 5G technology, with similarly themed posts gaining popularity on social media.

This misinformation was “gaining momentum” and the “fears being raised need to be quickly and respectfully addressed”, said a Telstra submission to the inquiry.

“The level of misinformation without sound scientific basis or medical evidence circulating in the community about 5G electromagnetic energy (EME) and health is on a scale we have not seen with the rollout of previous generations of mobile technology,” the Telstra submission said.

“Much of it appears to be driven largely by social media campaigns, and there is evidence to suggest that messaging in these campaigns is being influenced by foreign actors,” it said.

“We also observe that claims are often made that 5G hasn’t been tested, when in fact we have conducted considerable testing to confirm our network complies with EME standards.”

Those who believe the concerns about these health risks are unlikely to be swayed by messages from the telecom sector, Telstra said, and the federal government needed to step in.

“Telstra would like to see a broad-based government communications campaign explaining that 5G technology is safe and here are robust government settings in place, including the monitoring of EME safety standards,” it said.

In its own submission, the Department of Communications acknowledged the “misinformation” around the health risks of 5G.

“There is strict regulation of the EME from telecommunications facilities, so the community can have reassurance that there are no negative health effects from the EME from telecommunications facilities,” the Department said.

“There has been an increased level of misinformation spread about EME and 5G through social media, including claims that research studies prove that EME is dangerous. Internationally, it has been noted that on occasion, low-quality studies have been put forward as evidence that the deployment of 5G will be dangerous.”

The government’s primary authority on radiation protection and nuclear safety, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), also hit back at these unsubstantiated views.

“Higher frequencies do not mean higher exposure levels. Current research indicates that there is no established evidence for health effects from radio waves used in mobile telecommunications. This includes the upcoming roll-out of the 5G network. ARPANSA’s assessment is that 5G is safe,” the submission said.

While the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified EME as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” in 2011, this merely placed it in the same category as pickled vegetables and aloe vera, the agency said.

While the big telcos want the government to address a number of pieces of legislation relating to 5G, it’s also important that broader regulations related to technology are also improved, Telstra said.

“We need to ensure these industries remain competitive globally by employing the latest technology to reduce the cost and overhead, and 5G will usher in new levels of productivity, both at the point of production as well as in the transport and logistics associated with these commodities,” it said.

“Similarly, Australia needs to expand its capabilities as a technology country to reduce our reliance on primary production and to claim our place as an innovative country delivering world-leading technology solutions.

“5G will play a pivotal role in Australia’s transition to global technology innovator, ensuring that future generations of young Australians do not have to move off-shore to develop their careers, but instead can readily find fulfilling jobs in the technology sector at home.

“To realise this opportunity, we must systematically review regulations in every industry and every sector, from R&D to immigration visas, to ensure the right incentives exist for technology innovation to happen in every sector.”

While acknowledging it is likely to be a “transformative technology”, it is important that 5G isn’t over-hyped, the Department of Communications said.

“It is expected to be a transformative technology that could have significant implications; supporting greater innovation, productivity and international competitiveness. However, there is a need to keep 5G in perspective and balance hype with the reality,” its submission said.

“Earlier rollouts of new mobile technologies have generally been smooth for consumers, but ensuring consumers have realistic expectations and a positive experience will be important to 5G’s reception,” it said.

“As 5G is in its early stages and much is yet to be done, it will be important that carriers do not over promise and under deliver.”

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