The Government’s 2020-21 budget heralded its goal of Australia becoming a ‘leading digital economy by 2030’ with funding of $29.2 million promised to accelerate the rollout of 5G networks across Australia. Following on from this, round one for what has been coined ‘the Australian 5G Innovation Initiative’ has made $10 million available to Australian businesses to trial commercial uses of 5G technology, as part of the JobMaker Digital Business Plan.
In late 2020, the Government made a show of seeking feedback on the design of the initial round of largesse for this initiative. Over one third of the published responses raised serious issues concerning the rollout of 5G. In addition, the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications’ webpage on the consultation states that 53 confidential submissions were received, ‘largely from individuals concerned about electromagnetic energy (EME)’.
Despite the majority of submissions raising concerns, it seems that the Federal Government has once again turned a tin ear to the problematical matters raised by the public around 5G.
This is hardly surprising, considering that Paul Fletcher MP, a former Optus executive, is the incumbent Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts. In a media release earlier this month Fletcher states that ‘the Initiative will encourage more rapid deployment of 5G technology and create real productivity benefits for the Australian economy’.
Undoubtedly, the splurge of cash will grease the spread of 5G although, perversely, it’s been recognised that globally, the rate of economic growth has stagnated with the growth of digital technologies. Moreover, what will be the cost to the planet and people because of this initiative?
The Government’s blurb on the Australian 5G Innovation Initiative contains what appears to be glaring misrepresentations of facts. For instance, on its What is 5G? webpage it states that 5G uses less energy. Its failure to put this claim into context calls into question both the Government’s integrity and its grasp of the technology. Whilst 5G uses less energy than 4G to transmit the same data, it requires what is expected to be millions of new antennas to be used with billions of 5G-compatible devices. Miguel Coma, an engineer in telecommunications and an Information Technology architect, explained in an opinion piece for the Wall Street International Magazine how 5G will lead to soaring energy demands.
The Shift Project, a French think tank that advocates for transition to a carbon-free economy, stated in a report entitled ‘Lean ICT [information and communication technologies]: Towards Digital Sobriety’ that digital overconsumption is not sustainable in regard to its need for energy and raw materials. Blame for the rapidly expanding energy footprint of digital technologies is squarely attributed to high income countries. The report calls for governments and companies to adopt digital sobriety as a principle of action – buying the least powerful devices possible and changing them as little as possible, in order to reduce unnecessary energy-intensive uses. How ironic that the Government is, on one hand, mouthing the need for energy efficiency whilst, on the other hand, splurging taxpayers’ funds on an initiative that is likely to result in the opposite outcome.
On the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications’ webpage entitled What is EME?, the Government continues in its quest to spread false information. For instance, this webpage states that ‘The EME [electromagnetic energy] in telecommunications uses energy levels that are too weak to cause harm’. It beggars belief that the Government is not aware of the very large body of studies that challenge this claim. Its subsequent claim that ‘In fact, in the case of 5G, the EME from 5G devices cannot even penetrate skin’ once more reveals its woeful lack of awareness. As scientists and researchers at the Oceania Radiofrequency Scientific Advisory Association (ORSAA) pointed out in its letter to councils regarding 5G, very little research has been done so far on the health effects of millimetre waves to be used in the second phase of 5G (6 to 86 GHz). However, what research has been done shows that adverse outcomes include the potential for effects on ‘eyes (including cataracts), heart rate, immune system and DNA’ as well as ‘harm to the largest organ of the body, the skin, with the possibility of permanent tissue damage’. Brillouin precursors (very fast pulses of radiation which can penetrate much deeper than predicted by conventional models) may also be induced in the human body.
How much better would it be for the planet and the nation if, instead of squandering $29.2 million on 5G, the Federal Government were to seek initiatives that expand wired technology solutions – in addition to encouraging businesses and Australians to curb frivolous usage of technology.