Should Social, Environmental, and Racial Justice Groups Sound the Alarm About the Digital Divide, Internet Access and 5G?

By Patricia Burke

Part 1 of 3; Imperialism and Dominance

“It’s about time that we create a better, more equitable, sustainable and future, and we can do this if we work together. We need to embrace our responsibility to be fully and visibly connected to the fight against racism, and frankly injustices of all kind.” – Natural Resource Defense Council’s President and CEO Gina McCarthy, Virtual Conversation: The Deep Connection Between Healthy Communities and Racial Justice

Nations worldwide are seeking to accelerate wireless 5G broadband deployment. Increasingly, internet access is being promoted as an essential human right.1 2 3 The covid crisis and resulting quarantine has highlighted existing disparities in internet access, both within nations, 4 and between nations.5 6 7

At the same time, particularly in the U. S., the demand to address the long-standing racial divide has coalesced around efforts to address the “digital divide” by accelerating the installation of the 5G telecommunications network, focusing on expansion to rural areas.

Humanity has also been in the crosshairs regarding issues of energy, climate, and the damage inflicted on the ecosystem by the unexamined consumption of both fossil fuels and chemicals, including glyphosate and phthalates; products once assumed to be safe.

Are we repeating the error of decades of suppression of evidence of harm by the tobacco industry, and fossil fuel and chemical industries, with the wireless industry? Is corrupted, mercenary industry science controlling safety inquiry and regulation regarding wireless? Are economic considerations prevailing over stewardship of human health and the natural ecosystem? Is 5G the only choice or best choice, for internet access and its positive impacts on the economy, human health, human rights, and the environment?

Is wireless the best agenda? For whom? Does it exacerbate, or address social injustices? Writing in The Nation, about the removal of Confederate monuments, John Feffer asked, “What Will Future Generations Say About Us? What blind spots will future generations condemn us for as they tear down today’s statues tomorrow?”8

The telecommunications industry is already forecasting that ten years from now, fixed 5G infrastructure will not be adequate to meet the dynamic demands of 6G telecommunications. “Beam control through AI/ML will help to reduce inter-cell interference at a cost of complexity. This architecture will also require new antenna design (conformal as well as phased arrays). The move to higher frequency bands in 6G will help to reduce the size of these antennas, making efforts to shrink component footprints easier.” 9

If the statues that will need to be dismantled “tomorrow,” for whatever reason, are today’s wireless towers and antennas, isn’t this a planetary emergency? Shouldn’t social justice organizations work to ensure full transparency regarding the purpose and intention of 5G infrastructure expansion, including citizen surveillance?

Is there a possibility that, similar to the safety assumptions previous generations held about products including asbestos and lead, today’s cultural blind spot is wireless technology? Like the scrutiny being directed to so many toxins recognized after the fact, isn’t the necessity for independent non-industry science, independent monitoring, and investigation regarding health and environmental impacts critical?

In fact, the rush for faster, more ubiquitous wireless connectivity is being portrayed in media and advertising as universally, unquestionably desirable, and inevitable. Smart city proponents and decision makers are extolling the virtues of data-driven decisions, sustainability, and economic dividends. Younger generations are characterized by their consumer demand for immediate gratification, freedom, ease, and faster, more ubiquitous connectivity as a driver behind the demand for 5G.

But younger generations are also taking to the streets regarding concern for the climate, for racial justice, and in opposition to abuses of power. At the same time, all age groups have been tasked with altering their behaviors in order to protect health-vulnerable individuals in response to covid, and decision-makers have defined those requirements, regardless of the financial impact.

Is there a need for a new “digital literacy” that reflects a holistic view of the cost-benefits and risks of wireless? Shouldn’t “digital rights” include the sentiments of environmentally conscious consumers, including those who will be living in the footprint of new infrastructure? Is there a need for scrutiny of the dominance of the wireless agenda over safer, more secure, less surveillance-oriented, less consumptive choices for connectivity? Can consumers enjoy their devices but also seek to hold the industry accountable for recognizing evolving science and reports of harm? Will mischaracterization, ridicule, and censorship of 5G opposition by the mainstream media and the industry prevail? Or, in fact, is there a growing, demand for a healthier, safer, less consumptive, more sustainable model for telecommunications, to protect, rather than violate the environment, equality, and protection of human rights?

What is the Intention of “Internet Access as a Human Right?”

In 2011, the United Nations declared access to the internet an essential human right.10

A lengthy report (PDF) released by the United Nations argued that disconnecting individuals from the Internet is a violation of human rights and goes against international law. “The Special Rapporteur underscores the unique and transformative nature of the Internet not only to enable individuals to exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression,” according to the report’s summary, “but also a range of other human rights, and to promote the progress of society as a whole.”

In 2011, the report noted, “[T]he recent wave of demonstrations in countries across the Middle East and North African region has shown the key role that the Internet can play in mobilizing the population to call for justice, equality, accountability and better respect for human right. As such, facilitating access to the Internet for all individuals, with as little restriction to online content as possible, should be a priority for all States.” Of course, many of the dictators and leaders across the Middle East region that the report highlights recognized the power of the Internet early — and attempted to cut it from their citizens’ lives.11

The U.N. Special Rapporteur 2011 call for justice, equality, accountability, and better respect for human rights has not accompanied the drive to deploy 5G telecommunications infrastructure.

The promotion of 5G telecommunications, whether to address social, racial, and economic justice or other societal issues surrounding human rights and accessibility, has been accompanied by injustice, inequality, lack of accountability, lack of respect for human rights, discrimination against a disabling health condition, and increasingly, censorship, corruption, and the use of force, all hallmarks of dangerous, repressive regimes.

Does the Wireless Paradigm Perpetuate Racial and Economic Divides via International Aggression and Exploitation, and Dominance?

Countries including China, India, Poland, Russia, Italy and Switzerland have far stricter radiation exposure limits than the United States. By pressuring/requiring more health-protective nations, including India and China, to increase their radio frequency exposure limits 12 in order to accommodate 5G,13 is the United States perpetuating an ugly history of exploitation and imperialism?

Is the United States also exerting undue pressure on the international community regarding spectrum allocation? On July 24, Executive Gov reported, “The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has launched the first license auction for the new 5G spectrum, in a move to have the band populated by wireless networks as quickly as possible. The auction, titled Auction 105, offers opportunities to obtain priority access licenses for 10-megahertz channels in the 5G 3.55-3.65 gigahertz band, FCC said Thursday. “5G is critical to America’s global economic and technological leadership, and the start of the 3.5 GHz auction today is a key milestone in our work advancing this national priority,” said Ajit Pai, FCC chairman.”14

A paper by Rob Frieden published by Science Direct (October 2020) entitled, “5G: The evolving 5G case study in United States unilateral spectrum planning and policy” clarifies that the International Community has not yet come to agreement and resolution regarding 5G standards. “This paper summarizes how the International Telecommunication Union seeks to harmonize spectrum allocations globally. Rather than rely on inter-governmental coordination, the U.S. FCC has reallocated 5G spectrum unilaterally. Raising trade, industrial policy and national security issues will trigger conflict and questions about ITU legitimacy.”15

The paper’s abstract states, “This paper tracks increasingly aggressive initiatives by the United States government to reallocate spectrum on an expedited and unilateral basis well before conclusion of inter-governmental coordination. Rather than embrace the customary commitment to achieve consensus on global spectrum allocations at the International Telecommunication Union (“ITU”), the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) has auctioned off large blocks of frequencies for the next generation (“5G”) of wireless services. The FCC might have framed its first 5G auction, reassigning Ultra High Frequency (“UHF”) spectrum, as a one-time deviation from compliance with long standing, intergovernmental coordination procedures. These frequencies have ideal signal propagation characteristics and the Commission could use financial incentives—unavailable in most nations—to expedite “repacking” by incumbent broadcasters willing to move, share or abandon spectrum in exchange for ample financial compensation. However, the FCC has continued to auction off 5G spectrum on grounds that it must find ways to abate an acute shortage of wireless bandwidth and doing so will regain or maintain global leadership in wireless technologies. This paper offers a critical rebuke to unilateral spectrum management, because the short-term benefits expected by the U. S. government likely will be offset by countervailing harms to 5G manufacturers, carriers and consumers. The paper tracks fractious preparation for the ITU’s 2019 World Radio Conference by the U.S. delegation and the mixed record achieved there. Additionally, the paper explains how injecting trade, industrial policy and national security issues at the ITU can trigger more delays and disputes, including possible retaliation by nations displeased with U.S. efforts to subvert traditional technology optimization goals. A worst case scenario has the ITU deadlocked and unable to reach closure on “mission critical” spectrum planning issues at World Radio Conferences, convened every four years. The paper concludes that costs and likely challenges to the efficacy and legitimacy of the ITU will reduce the benefits accruing from the FCC’s unilateral, spectrum planning campaign.”

The paper cautions against:

  • Unanticipated costs in expediting 5G service before completion of inter-governmental coordination
  • Old lessons forgotten, ignored or avoided
  • Delay triggered by the failure to achieve early and complete resolution of intragovernmental and corporate disputes
  • Longer term consequences of unilateral spectrum planning
  • Risks to ITU legitimacy and efficacy16

As the paper notes, the “FCC has continued to auction off 5G spectrum on grounds that it must find ways to abate an acute shortage of wireless bandwidth and doing so will regain or maintain global leadership in wireless technologies.” Does the United States have the right to dictate ITU policies to other countries?

By portraying the race to 5G and as international security concern that must be “won” by Western leaders against China and/or Russia17 while dismissing the validity of more cautionary science regarding radio frequencies, especially from the former Soviet Bloc nation scientists, is the U.S. displaying unsubstantiated intellectual arrogance? 18 19

By failing to acknowledge the inherent security vulnerabilities of 5G wireless networks, has the industry amplified tension between nations, and compromised the security and safety of citizens?

According to security expert Bruce Scheier, “The security risks inherent in Chinese-made 5G networking equipment are easy to understand. Because the companies that make the equipment are subservient to the Chinese government, they could be forced to include backdoors in the hardware or software to give Beijing remote access. Eavesdropping is also a risk, although efforts to listen in would almost certainly be detectable. More insidious is the possibility that Beijing could use its access to degrade or disrupt communications services in the event of a larger geopolitical conflict. Since the internet, especially the “internet of things,” is expected to rely heavily on 5G infrastructure, potential Chinese infiltration is a serious national security threat. But keeping untrusted companies like Huawei out of Western infrastructure isn’t enough to secure 5G. Neither is banning Chinese microchips, software, or programmers. Security vulnerabilities in the standards — the protocols and software for 5G — ensure that vulnerabilities will remain, regardless of who provides the hardware and software. These insecurities are a result of market forces that prioritize costs over security and of governments, including the United States, that want to preserve the option of surveillance in 5G networks. If the United States is serious about tackling the national security threats related to an insecure 5G network, it needs to rethink the extent to which it values corporate profits and government espionage over security.”20 21

CNN reported, “Rare earth materials are also crucial to U.S. defense systems because of their usage in lasers, radar, sonar, night vision systems, missile guidance, jet engines and even alloys for armored vehicles, all of which the U.S. relies upon for national security.” 22 While actively promoting the demand for a new generation of internet connected devices, has the international community increased aggression between nations over security concerns, while ignoring the implications of a potential trade war regarding rare earth minerals with China?

In addition to seeking to forcefully override other nations, the FCC has also exerted dominance internally over other industries and agencies in the United States, disregarding utilities,23 national security,24 astronomy and space,25 environment,26 navigation,27 weather forecasters,28 the auto industry,29 politicians, 30 and health care 31 expertise and concern.

According to Politico, “The clear winners include Comcast, Facebook, AT&T and other Silicon Valley and telecom titans that say Pai’s policies will help the U.S. vie with China for technological supremacy. To his allies, Pai is heroic for taking on parochial interests keeping America from making the objectively best uses of its digital resources. To his foes, however, he’s going rogue in ways that waste taxpayer money and could endanger public safety.” ”The FCC embodies “very much a regulatory capture mindset” and “arrogance,” said Joy Ditto, who recently led the Utilities Technology Council in an unsuccessful airwaves fight with the commission on behalf of electric utilities. She accused the agency of putting its faith in tech and telecom companies’ promises of improved internet connections, at the expense of safety concerns from other spectrum-dependent industries.” 32

Those with the presence and integrity to question the 5G paradigm, for so many reasons, are on the right side of history.

Parts 2 and 3: The Economic Divide, the Racial Divide, the Scientific Divide, the Truth Divide, the Safety Divide

Notes:

1 U.N. Report Declares Internet Access a Human Right
https://www.wired.com/2011/06/internet-a-human-right/

2 https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/06/united-nations-declares-internet-access-a-basic-human-right/239911/

3 Congressman John Lewis said, ‘Access to the Internet…is the civil rights issue of the 21st century.’ We agree. The alarming current and forecasted impacts of COVID-19 show us that the people can no longer wait for connectivity. Now is the time to come together to ensure all communities have access to affordable and reliable broadband.
https://www.essence.com/news/broadband-access-is-a-civil-right-we-cant-afford-to-lose-but-many-cant-afford-to-have/

4 https://www.forbes.com/advisor/banking/digital-divide-and-its-impact-on-banking/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesbusinesscouncil/2020/06/09/how-crisis-reveals-a-growing-digital-divide/#4668be681ff3

5 Pandemic Spurs Countries’ Action on Digital Divide

Experts say the global health crisis has brought about an ‘unbelievable call to action’ to address the gap, where 3.6 billion people are not connected

https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/articles/2020-07-15/coronavirus-pandemic-pushes-countries-to-bridge-the-digital-divide

6 https://www.africaportal.org/features/covid-19-implications-of-the-pandemic-for-the-digital-divide-in-africa/

7 https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-53471749

8 https://www.fairobserver.com/region/north_america/john-feffer-alexander-hamilton-us-history-founding-fathers-american-world-news-06818/

9 What’s After 5G, The path to 6G will require some radical changes to both infrastructure and use models. Part of that rollout includes the use of higher frequencies, which can carry more data, but don’t travel as far and don’t bend around corners as well. Circuit implementations also will be more challenging. Exactly when we move to the mmWave regime will vary by country, because each country auctions off its own spectrum allocations. Coverage will be enhanced with numerous additional technologies, some of which may not be cellular. In particular, airborne or space-based transceivers will play an increased role. While geostationary (GEO) satellites are currently in use, Nakamura presented an increased role for low-earth orbit (LEO) and high-altitude pseudo-satellites (HAPS) (also referred to as atmospheric satellites, or atmosats).

The idea here is to provide a large number of transceivers accessible from anywhere on land or sea to bring adequate coverage to areas that are currently under-served, or where there is no coverage at all. Different vehicles having different bandwidth characteristics can address a wide range of scenarios

He noted that previous cellular communications were based on networks of hexagonal cells spaced far enough apart to avoid signal interference with neighboring cells. “6G may employ a spatially non-orthogonal, overlapped and dynamic topology to increase path selection. Beam control through AI/ML will help to reduce inter-cell interference at a cost of complexity. This architecture will also require new antenna design (conformal as well as phased arrays). The move to higher frequency bands in 6G will help to reduce the size of these antennas, making efforts to shrink component footprints easier.”

“To meet the service model of 5G and beyond, the infrastructure cannot afford to be fixed. Software-defined infrastructure that is dynamicall composable (reconfigurable) will be necessary to meet the service-level agreements for all 5G-enabled use cases,” he said. “For example, if a default cell is over-subscribed, then the wireless infrastructure must be able to service the end user with another cell without compromising on the quality/experience of service.” High-altitude pseudo-satellites/atmosats and low-earth-orbit satellites will be deployed to extend coverage into the air, over the sea, and even into space.

https://semiengineering.com/whats-after-5g/

10 https://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/17session/A.HRC.17.27_en.pdf

11 https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/06/united-nations-declares-internet-access-a-basic-human-right/239911/

12 5G Increases Radiation: Industry Is Lobbying Countries To Weaken Cell Tower Radiation Laws
May 1, 2020 | Environmental Health Trust
Many countries have more protective cell tower radiation limits compared to the USA. Countries such as China, India, Poland, Russia, Italy and Switzerland have far stricter radiation limits than the United States.
https://ehtrust.org/5g-increases-radiation-industry-is-lobbying-countries-to-weaken-cell-tower-radiation-laws/

13 5G Modems and Phones Literally Can’t Handle the Heat of Summer Weather https://www.extremetech.com/mobile/295228-5g-modems-and-phones-literally-cant-handle-the-heat-of-summer-weather

14 https://www.executivegov.com/2020/07/fcc-commences-5g-spectrum-auction-ajit-pai-quoted/

15 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0308596120301038

16 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0308596120301038

17 https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/06/04/5g-conspiracy-theories-threaten-us-recovery/

18 120 pages download of RF references, released by the CIA

https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP96-00792R000100070001-9.pdf

19 Devyatkov N.D., Golant M.B., Betsky O.V. Millimeter Waves and Their Role in Vital Processes. Radio and Svyaz; Moscow, Russia: 1991.

https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/d0f5/d75d92b7fb8f4d13ae5461e26afa62e87e60.pdf

20 https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2020/01/china_isnt_the_.html

21 5G Security The standards are simply too complex to implement securely. This is true for all software, but the 5G protocols offer particular difficulties. Because of how it is designed, the system blurs the wireless portion of the network connecting phones with base stations and the core portion that routes data around the world. Additionally, much of the network is virtualized, meaning that it will rely on software running on dynamically configurable hardware. This design dramatically increases the points vulnerable to attack, as does the expected massive increase in both things connected to the network and the data flying about it.

Second, there’s so much backward compatibility built into the 5G network that older vulnerabilities remain. 5G is an evolution of the decade-old 4G network, and most networks will mix generations. Without the ability to do a clean break from 4G to 5G, it will simply be impossible to improve security in some areas. Attackers may be able to force 5G systems to use more vulnerable 4G protocols, for example, and 5G networks will inherit many existing problems.

Third, the 5G standards committees missed many opportunities to improve security. Many of the new security features in 5G are optional, and network operators can choose not to implement them. The same happened with 4G; operators even ignored security features defined as mandatory in the standard because implementing them was expensive. But even worse, for 5G, development, performance, cost, and time to market were all prioritized over security, which was treated as an afterthought.

Solutions are few and far between and not very satisfying. It’s really too late to secure 5G networks. Susan Gordon, then-U.S. principal deputy director of national intelligence, had it right when she said last March: “You have to presume a dirty network.5G security is just one of the many areas in which near-term corporate profits prevailed against broader social good. In a capitalist free market economy, the only solution is to regulate companies, and the United States has not shown any serious appetite for that. What’s more, U.S. intelligence agencies like the NSA rely on inadvertent insecurities for their worldwide data collection efforts, and law enforcement agencies like the FBI have even tried to introduce new ones to make their own data collection efforts easier. Again, near-term self-interest has so far triumphed over society’s long-term best interests.

In turn, rather than mustering a major effort to fix 5G, what’s most likely to happen is that the United States will muddle along with the problems the network has, as it has done for decade. The geopolitics of 5G are complicated, involving a lot more than security. China is subsidizing the purchase of its companies’ networking equipment in countries around the world. The technology will quickly become critical national infrastructure, and security problems will become life-threatening. Both criminal attacks and government cyber-operations will become more common and more damaging. Eventually, Washington will have do so something. That something will be difficult and expensive — let’s hope it won’t also be too late. https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2020/01/china_isnt_the_.html

22 Rare earth minerals are a suite of 17 elements mineable in the earth’s crust, with names such as cerium, europium and lutetium. They are commonly used in everything from car motors and electronics to oil refining and clean diesel to many major weapons systems the U.S. relies on for national security, including lasers and radar. About 35% of rare earth global reserves are in China, the most in the world, and the country is a mining machine, producing 120,000 metric tons or 70% of total rare earths in 2018, according to the United States Geological Survey. The U.S. pales in comparison as it mined 15,000 metric tons of rare earths in 2018 and has a total of 1.4 million metric tons of reserves, versus China’s 44 million. “The glass industry is the largest consumer of rare earths. For example, lanthanum makes up as much as 50% of digital camera lenses, including cell phone cameras. Hybrid electric cars use significant amounts of lanthanum in its batteries – 10-15 kilograms per vehicle,” Rare earth materials are also crucial to U.S. defense systems because of their usage in lasers, radar, sonar, night vision systems, missile guidance, jet engines and even alloys for armored vehicles, all of which the U.S. relies upon for national security. https://www.cnbc.com/2019/05/30/heres-why-chinas-trade-war-threat-to-restrict-rare-earth-minerals-is-so-serious.html

23 https://www.multichannel.com/news/utilities-sue-fcc-over-6-ghz-order

24 https://thehill.com/policy/defense/operations/496555-pentagon-official-fcc-decision-on-5g-threatens-gps-national

25 https://www.satellitetoday.com/innovation/2019/01/18/spectrum-interference-in-the-new-world-of-space-and-5g/

26 https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/filing/1060315601199

27 https://venturebeat.com/2020/04/16/fcc-moves-to-expand-l-band-to-5g-after-gps-interference-controversy/

28 https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/08/forecasters-fear-5g-wireless-technology-will-muck-weather-predictions

29 https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/national/2019/11/17/548657.htm

30 https://breakingdefense.com/2020/04/feds-dod-lawmakers-oppose-fccs-ligado-5g-plan/

31 https://mdsafetech.org/problems/5g/

32 https://www.politico.com/news/2020/07/08/ajit-pai-enemies-5g-351803

Patricia Burke works with activists across the country and internationally calling for new biologically-based microwave radio frequency exposure limits. .

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