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30 September 2018

Switzerland: The Future of 5G at Stake Under the Dome

The future of 5G at stake under the Dome
by Lucie Monnat, ABO+, Tribune de Genève, 26 September 2018 - translation

Telecommunications: Parliament is debating Thursday the revision of the Telecommunications Act, which includes a controversial 5G measurement

Most people fear antennas but spend a whole day with their
smartphone glued to the ear.
5G is scary. More precisely, it is the conditions for the introduction of this technology in Switzerland that are frightening. On Thursday, the National Council discussed the revision of the Telecommunications Act. This major dossier includes, among other things, the relaxation of the limit values set by the Ordinance on Non-Ionising Radiation (ORNI). These are today ten times stricter than those of the European Union.

According to the mobile telephony operators, 5G, designed to make the network better and faster, requires more capacity from our antennas. Otherwise, operators will have to build many more, which is not desirable from both an ecological and aesthetic point of view. The opposition of local residents and associations would in any case make it impossible for these towers to proliferate.

Passionate debate

Since its announcement, the lowering of limit values has been the subject of a rarely seen heated debate. "I have received an incredible amount of letters from frightened people," says Hugues Hiltpold (PLR/GE), a member of the National Council's Transport and Telecommunications Commission. "In eleven years of parliament, I've never seen anything like it."

Although health effects have not yet been formally identified, a large part of the population is concerned about the consequences of excessive exposure to the waves. "It's a little schizophrenic," says Hugues Hiltpold. "People who are the first to complain because a page on their smartphone doesn't load fast enough are often the same people who fear the new technology features."

Federal Councilor Doris Leuthard, who considers the implementation of 5G essential to the health of our economy, has taken the lead: a few days ago, the head of the Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (DETEC) set up a working group to identify precisely the needs and risks associated with the introduction of 5G. The Minister is expecting a report by mid-2019.

Thursday's debate will therefore oppose health arguments to those related to the need not to miss the technology train. Jürg Grossen (Vert'lib./BE) considers that the topic "does not have an easy answer". According to the National Councilor, however, the fear of lowering the ORNI limit values is based on a misunderstanding. "It is true that the closer the person is to an antenna, the more exposed they are to radiation. But the weaker and further away an antenna is, the more radiation is emitted by mobile phones. But we're sticking these to our ears!" The more powerful antennas therefore mean less radiation from mobile phones, concludes Jürg Grossen.

Hugues Hiltpold points to a certain "misinformation on the subject". "You have to reassure people. These waves won't kill their cat or fry their neurons. You shouldn't be afraid of progress," concludes the PLR. You have to go with it." The Geneva elected representative also points out the advantage of a democracy "which allows laws to be changed quickly". "Studies have been commissioned on the subject. If we see that this is not working, there is always the possibility of going back. On the other hand, if nothing is done, there is a risk of a problematic delay."

On the socialist side, on the other hand, there is more caution. "The technicians forgot that it was possible to do without WLAN [Wi-Fi], especially in homes, and use cables," says National Councilor Matthias Aebischer (SP/BE). We have the opportunity to reduce wave emissions." The SP also wants to introduce an amendment stipulating that cables should be favored as much as possible in the installations.

At the beginning of March, caution also prevailed in the Council of States. The Chamber of Cantons sent a negative signal by rejecting a motion calling for the adaptation of radiation limit values.

Raphaël Comte (PLR/NE), who has also received hundreds of messages of concern, raises a question of competence above all. "The amendment of a federal order is the responsibility of the Federal Council, reminds the State Councilor. It is not for Parliament to make this decision."

Dispense with the approval of the parliament

The Neuchâtel native stresses that it is the government, and not the Chambers, that has the experts who can provide the technical and scientific knowledge. "It is not for parliament to substitute itself for this analysis. If the Federal Council deems it necessary to take this measure, it is up to it to take responsibility." Doris Leuthard knows this and does not rule out the possibility of dispensing with the agreement of Parliament to modify the limit values necessary for the advent of 5G. (TDG)

The "Swisscom Law" makes us cringe

Swisscom has already taken the lead by testing 5G in the Bernese countryside in Guttannen. A choice that is far from insignificant: the long-time operator thus shows its willingness to offer coverage throughout the country, and not only in major urban centers. It's a way for the blue giant to charm. because the most delicate point of this revision of the law is the opening to competition. Some parliamentarians have nicknamed this text the "Swisscom-Gesetz" ["Swisscom Law"] - and for good reason. The government had originally planned to allow the Communication Commission to intervene if the market did not work. 

The dominant suppliers would then have to allow their competitors to use certain infrastructures. The Telecommunications Commission, for its part, wants to delete the article, to the great displeasure of private operators. "It seemed right to us in the sense that Swisscom plays a public service role," explains Matthias Aebischer (SP/BE). The other operators want to take advantage of the infrastructure in which Swisscom has invested, without paying and only in the cities." In return for this favor, Swisscom must guarantee coverage in remote areas at reasonable prices.
The parliamentarians must therefore choose between the status quo - subject to a report from the Federal Council issued every three years to ensure that Swisscom complies with the conditions - and the new article proposed in the revision of the law. 

The only member to have opposed it, the Bernese Liberal Green Jürg Grossen believes that the committee's proposal is far too favorable to Swisscom, 51% owned by the Confederation. "From a Liberal perspective, this is really problematic," he says. This opinion was obviously shared by the private operators, who sent a letter to all the National Councilors for the debate. They denounce a situation of quasi-monopoly, i.e. insufficient competition and excessively high prices.

Original article in French:

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