The White House is throwing $400 million into an effort that's supposed to speed development of the Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G wireless technology, a move some health advocates say is premature and unwise.
The federal dollars will be flowing into something called the Advanced Wireless Research Initiative, which is supposed to test and ultimately implement new 5G wireless networking and IoT technologies in the U.S.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last week voted to adopt new rules that open up the 24 GHz spectrum for so-called 5G (5th generation) high-speed broadband. When fully deployed, 5G will make the internet about 100 times faster and supposedly enable widespread development of "connected" cars and appliances.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler calls U.S. leadership in 5G "a national priority."
"High-speed, high-capacity, low-latency wireless networks will define our future," Wheeler said at Friday's announcement of the funding for the initiative.
Because of the extremely high 24 GHz frequencies, the waves emitted by transponders are extremely short and don't travel very far, meaning that there will need to be many more -- though smaller -- cell towers than today.
Not everyone thinks this is a good idea. Richard H. Conrad, a biochemist and consultant, says the White House and FCC are putting the cart before the horse -- deploying new technology without first ensuring that it is safe.
"I am a biochemist with a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins and know without a doubt, from the findings of thousands of research papers published by scientists with independent research funding, that there are many harmful biological effects of non-thermal levels of EMF that are relevant to humans," Conrad said in an open letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.
Conrad contends that boosters of wireless technology have argued, in effect, that critics must prove the technology is unsafe by showing exactly how it causes harm.
"This is a myth; no one yet knows how smoking causes cancer, or the actual mechanism behind gravity," Conrad said. "Honest and independent research into health effects of 5G is absolutely necessary before actual deployment, and is therefore desirable before 5G system designs and standards have progressed very far."
In a statement, The White House compares the IoT effort to historic breakthroughs achieved by Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, George Washington Carver, and Samuel Morse.
"This effort will help spur innovation in many ways, from pushing the frontiers of tele-medicine through robot-assisted remote surgeries, to testing of autonomous vehicles that talk to each other to keep us safe, to the roll-out of smart manufacturing equipment in factories, to providing more connectivity for more people," administration officials Jason Furman and R. David Edelman said in a blog posting.
"Each one of these innovations has the potential to support increased productivity growth that can put more money in the pocket of American families," said Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, and Edelman, Special Assistant to the President for Economic and Technology Policy.
Like the FCC's Wheeler, Furman and Edelman have no training in biological sciences, a sticking point for Conrad.
"Wheeler is a businessman, lobbyist and politician with no training in biological or medical sciences, no understanding of biochemistry or biophysics, no biological research experience, and he listens to advice on biological safety only from scientists who have been bought by industry and tell him what he wants to hear," Conrad said in an email to ConsumerAffairs.
"Wheeler is relying on myths and 'tobacco science' to sweep real science under the carpet, the enormous body of science that shows harmful effects of even low levels of pulsed microwave, yes, non-ionizing, radiation," Conrad said.