County's 5G legal action provides critical window of opportunity


Marin County announced last month that it is filing an action in the United States Court of Appeals to challenge new rules the Federal Communications Commission issued regarding the deployment of fifth-generation cellular wireless. The law firm representing the county contends that the wireless industry wants to transform the F.C.C. into a “regulator of state and local governments” rather than a regulator of the wireless industry. 

County counsel expects oral arguments and a final ruling on their court action sometime in 2019. There are many in Marin who hope this legal action will forestall 5G deployment until the court renders its decision. This provides a short but critical window of opportunity for county officials, city councils, and local citizens to evaluate this technology and develop guidelines for the welfare of us all.

There are two crucial reasons why our local government and citizens need to step in. First, the wireless industry is working at international, national, state and local levels to try to ramrod policy changes that will allow them to deploy not only 5G, but any kind of wireless technology at any time, while stripping local governments’ rights to regulate and manage location, size and performance of wireless equipment as well as their ability to adequately capture monetary reimbursement for the use of poles and infrastructure.

Local government opposition to the industry’s power grab is not trivial. When telecommunications companies tried to pass a California strong-arm telecom bill called S.B. 659, California cities and counties amassed official opposition signatures from 271 cities, 45 counties and 50 public advocate organizations. What’s at stake here is the right of our local government to represent our best interests in the face of industry’s plans to do it “their way.”

The second reason we need to step into this policy-making process is because it profoundly impacts our health. Regulatory human-health safety standards for radio frequencies have not been updated since 1996—prior to the advent of 2G, 3G, 4G and now fifth-generation technology. Yet a massive body of research points to serious concerns over numerous linkages between RF and the damage or alteration of brain function, immune function, sperm fertility and nervous system functions.  

In 2011, the World Health Organization classified many forms of consumer-impacting RF as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” A 2016 study by the United States National Toxicology Program linked RF to two types of cancer. The chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society said this study was “good science, that was reviewed by multiple independent panels of experts.” In April, the International Society of Doctors for the Environment actually called for a specific moratorium on 5G deployment in the European Union.

The good news is that Marin County is planning to hold a public telecom workshop in February to discuss some of these issues. Here are two critical areas that citizens and government leaders must be sure to consider. 

Number one: The health issue. If our government leaders are going to take it seriously, they will need concerned parents, educators, health care professionals and thoughtful citizens to show up and tell them they will support a serious analysis of this hotbed issue.

Number two: Locally owned fiber optic networks. The town of Nicasio is nearing completion of its locally owned, cutting-edge, high-speed fiber optic network. Another such network is planned for Bolinas. Both communities have been ignored by a wireless industry that sees little profit in areas of low population density. Our county supervisors helped both communities receive state funding, secure local investment and retain consulting expertise. Locally owned fiber-to-the-home is also being considered in parts of unincorporated Mill Valley and in Fairfax. 

Locally owed fiber provides faster internet access and consumes far less energy than large wireless networks. It also puts the control of cost and deployment in the hands of local government rather than in industry hands that perpetually seek new ways to grab more money from customers. Once again, local leaders will need to hear that we want them to be bold enough to explore this option on our behalf.

Our supervisors have scheduled just one workshop to cover these issues. If they are serious about helping us take control of our future, a more realistic approach would provide multiple workshops that are well-advertised and held in multiple locations.

If this makes sense to you, please call or write your city or county representatives today and ask that the county schedule multiple workshops to allow for meaningful public input.

Here are some resources to get us started on the learning curve about RF and our health. Peer-reviewed scientific research on wireless radiation can be found at the Environmental Health Trust: A review of 5,600 studies by 29 authors from 10 countries (10 holding medical degrees and 21 holding Ph.D.s) can be found at the Bioinitiative Report:

And here are some resources regarding locally owned fiber networks: The Institute for Local Self Reliance (, the Harvard Report on Community-Owned Fiber Networks ( and Comparing Fiber and Wireless (


William Now is a California-accredited life sciences teacher, a professional technical writer and a longtime activist working to improve our relationship with science and nature. He lives in Inverness.