A bonanza of wifi

The fifth Annual Southern Vermont Educators Symposium was held recently at the Maple Street School in Manchester to discuss the theme Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). Of course, educators want to facilitate their student's access to an incredible resource like the Internet at our children's fingertips. At issue is how students access that information, through wired or wireless technology.

WiFi has become commonplace, along with an automatic assumption of its safety. Its use has expanded, unchecked and unquestioned, from coffee shops to public spaces, work environments, home, libraries and now schools.

This expansion is driven in part by industry innovators churning out devices like iPads compatible only with WiFi, and by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in tandem with wireless carriers, whose intent is to create a captive wireless market.

In February, President Obama announced his ConnectEd initiative to provide 15,000 schools with high speed Internet, via WiFi in classrooms. The FCC is contributing $2 billion, with U.S. companies like Apple, Microsoft, Verizon and AT&T adding another $750 million worth of free Internet, iPads and programming. Superficially, this appears to be a win-win situation; students receive pricey tablets initially subsidized by IT companies and high speed Internet, while the FCC pursues its wireless agenda, which ultimately includes abolishing land-lines. Per a recent article by Bruce Kushnick in the Huffington Post, 23 states have already begun the process of abandoning the copper-wire landline and fiber-optic infrastructure, despite the fact customers continue to pay millions in fees for maintenance and upgrades.

The new FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler, was formerly President and CEO of the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA) from 1992 to 2004. Chairman Wheeler is the ultimate insider with extensive industry ties, which makes this revolving door especially disturbing. The FCC is not a health agency, but its purview includes regulating exposure levels of non-ionizing radiation, the type emitted by cell phones, WiFi routers and "smart" meters. To independent scientists and researchers, the phrase "FCC Guidelines" is a joke, synonymous with out-dated exposure levels and zero enforcement. The BioInitiative Report 2012, a compilation of studies by world experts concludes: "Bioeffects are clearly established to occur with very low exposure levels (non-thermal levels) to electromagnetic fields and radiofrequency radiation exposures". These effects occur at levels exponentially lower than what FCC standards allow; pulsed radiation, like the kind emitted by smart meters, is even more problematic. With the proliferation of all things wireless, the cumulative effects of radiation coming from multiple sources is overlooked and exposures can exceed FCC guidelines.

The FCC is a government agency wearing two hats: expediting wireless at breakneck speed while retaining control over obsolete, non-protective guidelines that should be regulated by a legitimate environmental-health agency, once the domain of the EPA. It's time to examine the symbiosis between industry and government when it no longer serves the public good, and may directly contribute to the public harm.

Utilities, wireless carriers and IT companies have taken advantage of this regulatory void. The industry is not interested in finding the truth about non-ionizing radiation because it serves its interest to manufacture doubt.

This trend has been covered for years. For example, in Christopher Ketcham's 2010 article in GQ about cell phone health hazards, he wrote, "In the mid-1990s, a biophysicist at the University of Washington named Henry Lai began to make profound discoveries about the effects of such frequencies not only on the blood-brain barrier but also on the actual structure of rat DNA.

Lai found that modulated EM radiation could cause breaks in DNA strands - breaks that could then lead to genetic damage and mutations that would be passed on for generations. What surprised Lai was that the damage was accomplished in a single two-hour exposure."

In the wake of a Florida lawsuit alleging causality between cell phones and brain tumors, the telecom company Motorola proceeded to attack Lai and "war-gamed" the science. Invariably, industry-funded studies negate causation from non-ionizing radiation, while independent scientific studies tend to support it.

A battle is now brewing over this issue between government agencies. The U.S. Department of the Interior attacked the FCC this past February, citing failure to protect migratory birds and wildlife from cell tower radiation: "The electromagnetic radiation standards used by the FCC continue to be based on thermal heating, a criterion now nearly 30 years out of date and inapplicable today."

If the government is concerned about wildlife, why isn't it concerned about our children? The World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified RF as a 2B (possible) carcinogen, along with mercury, lead, formaldehyde and DDT. The American Academy of Pediatrics represents 60,000 pediatricians, and recommends protecting pregnant women and children from wireless radiation.

The American Academy of Environmental Medicine advises against WiFi.

Here's the latest inconvenient truth: WiFi is an industrial strength microwave radiation, especially when used for powering a classroom full of computers. In America today, we are willing to subject our students to daily immersion in radiation that damages DNA, leads to neurological disorders, causes headaches, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, insomnia and heart arrhythmia.

It impairs students ability to focus and learn. Emissions from a classroom of iPads add to the ambient levels and these devices are often used in unsafe ways, by being held on children's laps. This is involuntary exposure on a massive scale, involving millions of our children.

Meanwhile, other countries are taking steps to protect their children.

Ex-CEO of Microsoft Canada, Frank Clegg, quit a lucrative career to focus exclusively on removing WiFi from schools in Canada; see "Invisible Threat," Vitality Magazine. Switzerland is removing WiFi from schools. France has removed WiFi from its national library in Paris and is recommending removal from schools and requiring its removal for Pre-K. The UK and New Zealand governments are shifting liability to school districts if they decide to install WiFi. The Israeli Supreme Court is hearing a mountain of evidence on WiFi in schools. Top liability expert A.M. Best says radio-frequency radiation poses significant risk to insurers. A report by insurance firm, Swiss Re SONAR indicates insurance coverage for harm from electromagnetic radiation over the next decade would be "high." Most companies already have disclaimed coverage and warn of large losses from "unforseen consequences" of wireless technologies.

Astronomical profit drives this industry, and the threat of astronomical loss through litigation may halt it, or at the very least, slow the frenzy.

The precautionary principle is warranted here. Isn't the commonsense solution to wait before we let an industry bonanza jeopardize humanity, the health of today's children and future generations? Let's put the world at our students' fingertips, but let's do it safely with hard-wired technology.

Martine Victor lives in Manchester.


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