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10th March
2006

First Published in The New York Sun, March 10, 2006

By Andrew Wolf

There is a disease spreading from Europe, a dangerous pandemic that will cause death and cause palpitations in our economic growth. I’m not talking about the Avian Flu, but a rare strain of “Mast Hysteria,” as our friends in Britain call the opposition to construction of cell phone antennae.

In Albany, bill is wending its way through the Capitol. This bill, with a raft of co-sponsors from both parties, would, if passed into law, effectively shut down the installation of new cell phone antennae in our urban areas. For the most part, the crippling effects will come down on us right here, in the nation’s center of communications. In the Assembly, the lead sponsor is Queens Assemblyman Michael Gianaris,a Democrat.More ominously, Republican Frank Padavan, a legislator who usually has his head screwed on straight, is leading the charge in the State Senate.
The real disease is a lack of candor and an excess of pander. The fact is that there is yet to emerge even a scintilla of evidence, anywhere, that these “masts”as the Brits call them,represent any kind of danger to anyone. What is dangerous is allowing the local Luddites to slow our ability to keep up technologically. A price will be paid.

What evidence is there that anyone has suffered any ill effects from this technology? Well there is the case of a woman from Kent in the U.K., who runs a “holistic bakery.” She is concerned that the radiation from a new antenna near her shop will disrupt the “subtle cosmic forces” and “destroy the vitality” of her “biodynamic loaves.” I guess that Messrs. Gianaris and Padavan want to spare our baked goods the same fate.

At the same time as frightened residents are stopping the construction of cell phone antennae all over town, they are surrounding themselves with other forms of the same radio waves they fear. Many have already set up “WiFi”networks in their own homes. This may come as a flash to the Luddites, but how do they think the signals get from their routers into their laptops? Even if you don’t have a computer or your own wireless network, don’t worry. The fellow in the apartment, next to you, above you, or below you is probably frying your brain right now.

Bowing to pressure, the Department of Education has rejected plans to raise millions of dollars by leasing space for cell phone antennae on the roofs of Gotham’s 1,400 public schools. Nor is the Catholic Church immune from similar troubles. In 2003, St. Helen’s Church School in Howard Beach lost an $18,000 annual windfall when angry parents pressured the church’s pastor, Monsignor Joseph Pfeiffer, to have an AT&T antenna removed from the roof of the school. Right now, in the classrooms of many of those schools, just a few short feet from children, WiFi transmitters are radioing data to and from classroom computers.

Is WiFi dangerous? Again, without even one sick person to wheel in, Fred Gilbert, the president of Lakehead University in Ontario, Canada, has restricted the use of WiFi on his campus. Perhaps he can lure the cosmic baker from Britain to peddle her wares in his technology free zone.

In last year’s race for public advocate, one of the candidates, Andrew Rasiej, proposed a citywide WiFi network that would give anyone a broadband Internet connection anywhere in the five boroughs. Lest you think this is pure folly, other cities, including Philadelphia, are doing just that. Better wrap yourself in aluminum foil.

Cell phone transmissions and WiFi are just the tip of the iceberg. There is good old-fashioned radio, television (now coming to you in high definition), satellite radio and television, and even the cordless handset of your old wired-to-the-wall telephone. You are surrounded by radio waves, each one making your life a little bit better.

The threat presented by the Gianaris-Padavan bill is that cellular phone technology is evolving fast. A trip to Europe or Japan will demonstrate that America is lagging, not leading in the march to better wireless technology.The old systems used by the various carriers are already being supplanted by “3G” or third-generation systems. We are seeing the beginning of that now with cell phones that are able to receive email, news and even movie clips. Is New York to lag behind and perhaps lose industry to other states and nations?
It may be that the bill introduced in our legislature won’t pass legal muster.After all, it is the FCC that regulates radio antennae and not the state. But what the politicos are doing is giving credence to the fiction that there is a danger here.In Britain, Labor politician Roy Pennington has accused his colleagues of “low-level hypocrisy” in “peddling hysteria about the unproven dangers of mobile phone masts to win votes.” Hear! Hear!

© 2006 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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