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05 July 2019

Switzerland: 5G Network: Operators' Lobbying has a Strong Impact

5G Network: Operators' lobbying has a strong impact
by Eric Breitinger, Bon à savoir, 3 July 2019 - translation

TELECOMMUNICATIONS: The precautionary principle is about to be sacrificed on the altar of economic interests. Operators are skillfully maneuvering to tip the Confederation's report in their favor.

Should the radiation limits for mobile phone antennas be increased? Yes, answer Swisscom, Salt and Sunrise, who are waiting for this to quickly develop the new 5G network, especially since they have just spent $380 million on 5G licences... On the public side, concerns are emerging. The cantons of Vaud, Geneva, Jura and Neuchâtel have also frozen the construction of new antennas pending the imminent conclusions of the working group on "Mobile telephony and radiation".

No evidence of danger....

Established by the Confederation, this group includes representatives of federal offices, telecommunications companies, cities, physicians and radiation specialists. In particular, it will base its recommendations on an expert report commissioned by the Swiss Telecommunications Association (ASUT), an association headed by a committee on which Sunrise and Swisscom sit.

If this 69-page text has not yet been published, Bon à Savoir has obtained a copy. Its title indicates that it refers to "the precautionary principle when there is no evidence of danger". Its author Peter Hettich, Professor of Public Business Law at the University of St. Gallen, explains why the radiation limit values must be raised. He argues that the harmful effects of mobile phone antennas have not been scientifically proven.

According to this report, the only thing demonstrated is radiation-induced body warming. However, he considers that the precautionary principle must be based on "a real and plausible possibility of damage" which would, in this case, be lacking. His conclusion? The Federal Council is "legally obliged" to relax or even suspend precautionary measures.

The economy takes precedence

Several independent experts are very critical of this interpretation. Sebastian Heselhaus, Professor of Law at the University of Lucerne, emphasizes that the precautionary principle makes it possible to intervene even when the risks of damage have not yet been fully scientifically proven: "Influences that may become harmful or severe must be limited from the outset". Despite this, expertise gives more weight to economic interests.

Another critical voice is radiation specialist Sven Kühn of the Zurich-based IT'IS Foundation, which is dedicated to the safety and quality of new technologies. According to him, Peter Hettich's examination is wrong. He points out that new research suggests that mobile phone waves can be harmful. The WHO cancer research agency considers them to be potentially carcinogenic. An American study published in the autumn shows that they can cause cancer in rats.

Peter Kälin*, President of the Association of Physicians for the Environment, is also very outspoken. He considers that the expertise represents "a general offensive against the precautionary principle and the protection of the health of the population". National Councillor Thomas Hardegger (SP/ZH) finds it shocking that operators are trying, in the shadows, to overturn a decision by Parliament, recalling that the Council of States has repeatedly refused to increase the radiation limits.

And closer antennas?

ASUT defends its text. It is an "objective basis for discussion", insists its director Christian Grasser. This is not the first time the interest group has tried to stimulate debate through studies that it considers objective. According to an analysis published in April, a delay in the deployment of 5G would reduce Switzerland's competitiveness and lead to losses of up to CHF 10 billion.

An increase in limit values is not necessary, says radiation specialist Sven Kühn: "It is possible both economically and technically to maintain the current limit values, even if it is costly. For example, it would be sufficient to build a network of small antennas closer to each other. This option would cost CHF 400 million, according to Harry Künzle, Head of Environment and Energy for the City of St. Gallen. Operators dismiss the idea by considering that more antennas should be built and that the 5G network could not be extended to the whole territory.

* Dr. Peter Kälin died on 23 June 2019, victim of a glider accident. (Note added by Editor, "Towards Better Health")

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