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Sci Tech    H4'ed 9/25/15

Rules & Regulations About Electricity, Electronics, Wireless Devices, Electric & Telecom Infrastructure: A Study Guide

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Here are a few key ways:

1. In 1934, Congress passed The Broadcasting Act and established our Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC encouraged entrepreneurs to invent and market electronics and appliances--as long as they did not create "harmful interference." The FCC defined harmful interference as anything that interferes with existing radio or TV broadcasts. More recently, "harmful interference" includes cellular and Internet services: new products and services may not interfere with existing radio or TV broadcasts or cellular or Internet services.

The FCC's definition of "harmful interference" has never included biological harm.

2. In the mid-90s, the FCC conducted a test to determine whether mobile devices are safe for human use, Engineers filled the head of a standard anthropomorphic man (SAM) with salty fluid and took his temperature. (SAM's size is similar to that of a 200-pound man.) Engineers gave the dummy a cell phone for six minutes, then they took his temperature again. Because SAM's temperature did not change by two degrees in those six minutes, the FCC determined that mobile devices are safe to market.

In other words, the FCC determined mobile device safety solely by the immediate, thermal effects of EMR-exposure. (For thousands of studies about the non-thermal effects of exposure, visit or

3. The FCC established Specific Absorption Rates (SARs) in 1996. A SAR measures exposure of tissue to electromagnetic radiation (EMR). A SAR is the ratio of power to weight (Watt/kilogram) at a given frequency above 100 kHz for a given period of time. In '96, the FCC determined that the head and trunk can safely absorb 1.6 w/kg of radiation over one gram of tissue. Extremities such as the hands and feet can absorb 4.0 w/kg of radiation over ten grams of tissue. Exposures may be averaged over a time period not to exceed 30 minutes.

The FCC's SAR limit does not account for differences in exposure experienced by fetuses, infants, children, people with medical implants and adults, nor for exposure to multiple transmitters at the same time. Some medical implant manufacturers recommend exposure limits of no more than 0.25 W/kg for fifteen minutes (

In 2013, the FCC reclassified the pinna (outer part) of our ears as extremities, effectively allowing the head nearly three times as much SAR as it had been allowed before this reclassification.

Why don't FCC's Mobile Phone Safety Guidelines Consider Children?

In IEEE's June 23, 2015 Spectrum, Dr. Om Gandhi, prof. of electrical engineering at the University of Utah, co-chair of IEEE's Subcommittee on RF Safety Standards (1988-97) and Chair of IEEE's Committee on Man and Radiation (COMAR) 1981-82 published a paper about this question. In his paper, "Yes the children are more exposed to radio-frequency energy from mobile telephones than adults," Dr. Gandhi wrote that "it is very hard to understand why" the FCC's safety guidelines only consider the head of a mannequin whose size is in the 90th percentage of US military recruits. bit/y/1CWO1od

How does our federal government regulate telecommunications facilities, i.e. antennas and towers that provide mobile phone and Internet services?

In 1996, Congress updated the Broadcasting Act with passage of the Telecommunications Act (TCA). The TCA's Section 704 prohibits municipalities from regulating "wireless service facilities on the basis of the environmental effects of radiofrequency emissions." In other words, environmental and health concerns may not interfere with the installation of cell towers. Plainly, Section 704 values corporate and engineering needs above human health and our environment.

The 2012 Middle Class Tax Relief and Jobs Creation Act includes a section that allows corporations to extend existing cell towers (that are at least 30 feet tall) vertically or horizontally without a permit. This means that once a cell tower is at least 30 feet tall, your municipality has no control over the antennas that go on it.

New "green," "sustainable" ordinances are being passed around the country that allow telecom corporations to build new cell towers without a permit. With such ordinances, if a telecom corporation wants to erect a tower on a floodplain at a gas station at a major intersection near a school or residential neighborhood, your town may have no recourse.

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Katie Singer writes about nature and technology in Letters to Greta. She spoke about the Internet's footprint in 2018, at the United Nations' Forum on Science, Technology & Innovation, and, in 2019, on a panel with the climatologist Dr. (more...)

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