The Australian Government quietly released its response to the Productivity Commission Inquiry Report into the Telecommunications Universal Service Obligation, shortly before Christmas.
It appears that Australians’ right to safe and reliable phone lines and payphones is soon to be relegated to history. Whilst the response assures us that a new Universal Service Guarantee, which is to replace the Universal Service Obligation (USO), will make available broadband and voice services to 100 per cent of premises on request, the detail on how this might be achieved is sketchy.
Instead, alarmingly, the Government’s response spruiks Australians’ uptake of mobile phones, claiming more than 99 per cent of Australians already have access to at least one mobile network, and states that voice and broadband services will be “delivered on a commercial basis by the market in the first instance”.
It’s bad enough that the NBN has left most city dwellers without the means of a safe phone line when the power goes off (and battery backup offers only short-term respite). But now rural dwellers are to be hit even harder; households in the NBN fixed wireless and satellite footprints will be expected to rely on wireless communications for all their voice services.
The Productivity Commission’s report states that the Universal Service Guarantee (USG) should start following the completion of the NBN rollout in 2020. In line with the Commission’s recommendations, the Government has commenced work on the new USG. However, the Minister for the Department of Communications and the Arts, Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield, assures us that no changes will be made to the current USO (which was originally meant to run until 2032) unless the “proposed new service delivery arrangements are more cost effective than the existing USO contract (including transitional costs)”.
Given that the Government’s input into the existing USO is only $100 million annually (with industry levies providing the balance), it beggars belief that substituting wireless services in rural areas for copper landlines will prove to be more cost effective if all costs are considered. But that’s the catch – many of the potential costs are being steadfastly ignored by Government.
From a health perspective alone, the long-term ramifications of pushing rural Australians onto 24/7 wireless services is likely to result in costs to the nation which will dwarf current funding.
An increase in brain tumours is but one of the many adverse outcomes which studies have highlighted as being a possible result of long-term exposure to radiofrequency radiation. Brain cancer is a rare disease; however, according to Australia’s Cure Brain Foundation it now kills more children in Australia than any other disease. According to an independent study prepared for the Cancer Council New South Wales, using data available to June 2006, the average lifetime financial costs to households for brain cancer were $149,400; this increased to $449,100 for males up to 14 years old.
Taxpayers also pay the price of increased brain tumours. An overseas 2013 study, entitled “Swedish review strengthens grounds for concluding that radiation from cellular and cordless phones is a probable human carcinogen”, states that treatment of a single case of brain cancer can cost between $100,000 for radiation therapy alone and up to $1 million (USD) depending on drug costs. And brain cancer is only one of the adverse health outcomes that may eventuate as a result of increased exposure to pulsed microwave radiation.
How ironic that progressive health authorities elsewhere in the world are advising the public to consider using landlines as an alternative to mobile phones due to substantial scientific evidence of risk, particularly in regards to children. For instance, in Israel, the Ministry of Health recommends sensible use of cellular and wireless technology, including “considering alternatives like landline telephones” (Environmental Health in Israel, Chapter 10, Non-Ionizing Radiation); similarly, the Cyprus Medical Association, Vienna Austrian Medical Chamber and Cyprus National Committee on Environment and Children’s Health recently released the Nicosia Declaration on Electromagnetic Fields/Radiofrequencies, which advises that children under 16 should use mobile phones only for emergencies, and that phone calls at home and at work should be made via a hardwired network. In Australia, however, children as well as adults are to be denied the choice to choose a safe means of voice communication.
Electromagnetic hypersensitivity sufferers marginalised
The Productivity Commission Inquiry Report on the USO highlighted the role of phones in creating social inclusion. Yet despite recognition of this, and the fact that a number of participants stated in their submission that their electromagnetic hypersensitivity rendered them unable to tolerate wireless signals without becoming ill, this direct evidence was dismissed by the Commission.
Instead, the Commission’s report lamely relayed ARPANSA’s opinion on the matter (‘no established scientific evidence that electromagnetic hypersensitivity is caused by electromagnetic fields below exposure guidelines’) and opined that there are “already Australian Government measures to address concerns in this area…”. Sadly, none of the measures which were mentioned include a means by which sufferers might access a phone line without being exposed to pulsed wireless radiation! The Commission also considered that, “even if concerns about health effects were validated”, measures such as “providing consumer information” or “setting standards” would be a more cost-effective means of addressing this issue.
Based on this, it would seem that the needs of people with electrohypersensitivity will continue to be ignored.
Fragility of wireless communications
It appears that the Government is also labouring under the assumption that wireless communications are as robust as hard-wired landlines and payphones. This is remarkedly short-sighted. Even damage from a storm can render communication towers useless for days, if not longer. Is the Government going to factor in the potential cost to the community of events such as this?
If the Australian Government’s plans for its new Universal Service Guarantee is of concern to you, please raise this issue with your local Federal MP and/or write to:
Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield
Minister for Communications
To view the Productivity Commission Inquiry Report, along with its findings and recommendations, go here. (The response to concerns raised by the public about electromagnetic energy exposure is covered on pp. 237-239, plus see the comment on p. 160.)
For previous posts on this issue, see: