The Cozy Relationship Between the FCC and the Cell Phone Industry
Cell phones emit small amounts of microwave radiation that can be harmful over the long run, and the cell phone industry would rather the public not know it. But the story behind cell phones and health is not simple. Recent maneuvers make it clear that the cellular industry wants to keep people in the dark about the fact that cell phones are two-way microwave radios. This is a key part of the marketing strategy for these ubiquitous devices.
Light was shed on this confusion on June 15, 2010, when San Francisco passed the nation’s first law mandating that consumers have a right to learn from retailers the amount of radiation emitted (Specific Absorption Rate, or SAR) from cell phones. This “Right to Know” ordinance gives consumers rapid access to data needed to make informed choices.
The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), the organization that has represents the wireless communications industry responded by filing a lawsuit against San Francisco to block this legislation.
Buttons worn at the San Francisco protest featured in the New York Times
They also threatened to pull future conventions–that bring in millions– from the city. Mayor Gavin Newsom did not back down, and told this industry the city was not for sale. People have a right to know that cell phones emit radiation.
Subsequently, the city of Burlingame, CA held discussions about its own Right to Know legislation. City councilperson Michael Brownrigg, three of whose friends died from brain tumors, believed that their regular heavy cell phone was to blame. With the consent of the mayor he arranged for presentations by the CTIA and the San Francisco Department of Environment to be held at a meeting on September 20, 2010. My colleague, Senior Science Fellow Lloyd Morgan, and I, Director of Government and Public Affairs, spoke on behalf of Environmental Health Trust (EHT).
I helped educate Brownrigg prior to the meeting. On September 19, the day before the meeting, I recalled having seen an FCC website page about “What You Can Do” to reduce cell phone radiation that said: “Buy a wireless device with lower SAR.” I pulled up that page on September 19 and sent it to Burlingame city attorney Guinan and the city council. My email asked: “How can the CTIA sue San Francisco for posting SAR when the FCC, who supposedly regulates the CTIA, tells consumers to buy a lower SAR phone?”
The next night, at the Burlingame city council meeting, CTIA Vice President Snowden gave his presentation. At one point he stated that the email I had sent, which he admitted seeing earlier in the day, was incorrect. YES! Now it was incorrect because the FCC website had been shut down after he saw my email and relaunched WITHOUT the line “Buy a device with a lower SAR”. That line had vanished!
As a former FCC chief of public affairs, Snowden appears to have had remarkably quick access to those in charge of the FCC website. Literally one day the site advised to buy a lower SAR phone, and the next day that advice had disappeared.
At the Burlingame hearing, Snowden also said, “I have not told you once, not once, that cell phones are safe. The FCC is telling you they are safe.” Snowden further stated, “Consumers are scared of the word radiation!”
I kid you not.
Let’s connect the dots.
- June 15, 2010: San Francisco passes cell phone legislation.
- July, 2010: CTIA sues San Francisco saying consumers do not have right to see the amount of radiation emitted from each phone at point of sale.
- Sept. 19, 2010: I send an email to Burlingame city attorney with text that I pulled from the FCC website that day. That text included the line, “Buy a wireless device with lower SAR.”
- Sept. 20, 2010: Snowden admits to seeing my email.
- Sept. 20, 2010: FCC website shut down.
- Sept. 20, 2010 : FCC website comes back up without recommending buying a lower SAR phone.
Why would such a huge industry pay attention to a small California town?
The CTIA folks know their history. They know that California was the battleground for actions to get lead out of gasoline, to prevent asbestos from being used in schools and to ban smoking in public buildings. All of these crusades began when citizens and workers banded together to say “Enough!”
Further revisions were made to the FCC website that also played into the hands of the CTIA lawsuit against San Francisco’s Right to Know legislation–in an attempt to discourage other cities from considering legislation.
What’s going on here? How is it possible that a multi-trillion dollar global industry has the capacity to alter a government website overnight? These changes in the website are not merely inside baseball. What’s happened here will have serious consequences for cell phone users.
I should know; for years, my husband has been battling brain cancer. Glued to his cell phone as a real estate broker and agent, neither Alan nor I ever dreamed that the device that made his work so successful would eventually kill him. Many people, many younger than my husband, have attributed brain cancer to their cell phone use. Sadly some died as early as age 25. We are now finding that other cancers are developing in other areas of the body—like a rare cancer of the cheek that Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys developed right under the area where his cell phone was held.
Who is responsible for the growing numbers of young people with rare tumors? It is not just bad luck that my husband got a brain tumor on the same side of his head where he held phones for 20 years. I’ve heard the same story from so many people, it’s hard to keep track of all of them.
Cell phones are ubiquitous and can be lifesavers, but we need to get smart about how we use them and understand that other nations are ahead of us. Check out what Israel and other countries advise. Find out why the French government passed a law banning cell phones from children and requiring that all phones be sold with headsets. Find out why Israel, a nation that relies on microwaves and radar, has issued a number of warnings about safer use of phones.
The truth will come out, hopefully sooner than later. And when it does, this will be shown to be the largest cover-up in history. Walls, Snowden, Keegan, Ory and other CTIA staffers have run from Maine to California misleading the public with assurances of safety that ignore the fact that some governments have issued warnings, and bullying governments large and small with threats of lawsuits.
Andrea Boland, a courageous Maine legislator, attempted to legislate for warning labels on cell phones in March 2010. The industry threatened Maine’s governor with a lawsuit, and the bill was defeated. At a hearing on this bill, Larry Brown, the son of the 50-year-old Fresno state football coach Dan Brown who died from brain cancer attributed to his thousands of hours of cell phone use, held up his iPhone manual and asked the Maine legislators why it stated in tiny print that the device should not be held to the body. That was and still is a very good question.
The senator in charge turned to Snowden and asked him. Snowden scratched his head and said, “I have not seen that document, I do not know and I will have to get back to you on that.” At the Burlingame hearings some six months later, I asked why Snowden still had no answer.
Snowden told the Burlingame city council that he did get back to the Maine legislators. However, on September 21, Boland asked the members of the Health and Human Services committee of the Maine Legislature whether they had ever heard from the CTIA, and was informed that no one ever did hear back from Snowden.
After the Burlingame meeting, Snowden angrily accused me of defamation. He stood uncomfortably close in a threatening posture and made it clear he was not happy with my repeating the question that he had yet to answer. Why do all smart phones come with fine print warnings labels?
How dare he speak to me in that manner! My husband will die because no one ever told him not to use his phone close to his head or body. Snowden refuses to answer the question, and he is angry with me? I will wear his anger as a badge of honor. The truth about all this will come out someday. But in the meantime, we must stop the madness of spreading use of this technology and minimizing public access to information about its hidden dangers.
How many more people must be stricken like my husband or die early death like Dan Brown? Sadly, the body count is growing. It’s time for Mr. Snowden to stop bullying me and city governments and start answering some important questions.
If the CTIA is selling products that they do not believe to be safe, then who is responsible for our safety?
It is too late for Alan, me and our children. But it may not be too late for billions around the world today. The public has a right to know that cell phones are small two-way microwave radios.
Please help me get the word out about this. Help us at Environmental Health Trust promote our programs of public education, research, and legislation on this issue. Our website is full of downloadable information that you can share with young parents who are often unaware that cell phones should not be used near infants and toddlers and never be held with their antennas close to a pregnant woman’s abdomen.
We do not have all the answers. But we know to take simple steps to prevent cell phone-related cancer. Our goal is stop the suffering. Please err on the side of safety and don’t hold your cell phone to your head or keep it on your body while on. Please protect your children. And please look at our website now, where you can find the original FCC position of SAR and the current one, as well as fine-print warnings that come with all phones and simple clear advice about lowering your risks. The new Blackberry states that one should keep the device at least .98 inches from the lower abdomen of a teenager. I think that is problematic. Don’t you agree?
At this time of year, we become numb to all the requests for help. But take a minute. Think about what you know now about what we are still going through with tobacco, and help us at EHT reach out to cities, schools and health professionals worldwide.
We need donations to help us help you, your children and your grandchildren. Please give to the Environmental Health Trust today to help us save lives. Seventy-five percent of children age 7 use a cell phone in the US. Yes, children text, but they also sleep with their phones on, positioned near their heads. Just like secondhand smoke, there is secondhand radiation. Please make this donation a priority.
We at EHT do not advocate abandoning this technology. We demand the “Right to Know”.
Director of Government and Public Affairs
Environmental Health Trust