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How neoliberal culture and 5G are related

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5G technology has received a great deal of criticism with many concerned about health risks (Image via Pixabay)

With the development of 5G technology, with it has come great debate over the safety and necessity of the network, writes Dr José van den Akker.

WE ARE AT an important stage in Australia. The Government’s agenda to roll out the 5G network is well underway, but with a growing global protest movement against this roll-out, now is the time to be asking: what is 5G actually for and who does it benefit?

5G tends to be argued about in terms of the impact on people’s health and the Earth’s ecology. Governments and the technology industry argue that 5G is safe based on industry-supported scientific studies. Other independent scientists argue that 5G is unsafe, but that more independent studies are needed to justify the current roll-out of 5G. The findings from these two types of studies tend to conflict with each other, which is not surprising. Industry bodies only fund and approve of studies that promote their products.

There is one big caveat. There are very few arguments on the process of weighing up public and private benefit. At one end, you have the notion of space and unpolluted air as a public good that needs to be protected. At the other end, you have the notion of space as a commodity that fits neoliberal dogma and its user-pays systems.

If our space is a public good, it is being marketed by the Australian Government and the industries it supports as if a commodity. Neither of those bodies consults the community. Instead, this public good is being overcrowded by airwaves that place people’s and the Earth’s ecology but also weather radars at risk.

If space is a public good, it is being privatised by companies such as SpaceX, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Amazon. They have launched thousands of satellites, atmospheric drones and high altitude navigable balloons and tens of thousands more to be deployed in the near future to deliver high speed, 5G global internet to consumers worldwide.

Also, if space is a public good, it is at risk of breaching cybersecurity with hackers and authoritarian regimes seeking to gain social control and control of these space devices. To mitigate this risk, some argue that technology industries should work together with national governments.

At a national level, telecom industries such as Telstra, Optus and Vodafone build the infrastructure to arguably meet consumer demand for a cheap, high-speed cellular mobile network. The Australian Government supports this infrastructure, promoting the “internet of things” as the ultimate ideal of a “thriving economy”, even though botnets – networks of internet-connected devices – can be weaponised. Data can be used for purposes beyond consumer expectations. This is why Australian farmers, for example, want a data governance framework.

The Australian Government currently inquires into and reports on the deployment, adoption and application of 5G in Australia. Submissions have now closed but hearings are still taking place.

A large part of the 476 submissions demonstrated high levels of community concerns around human and environmental safety, to which Federal Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts Paul Fletcher responded by promising to invest $9 million to:

...start a communications campaign about the safety of Radio Frequency (RF) and Electro-Magnetic Emissions (EME) to ensure Australians have reliable, scientifically accurate information. Australians need to know that 5G is an important technology — and a safe one. This additional funding will help give Australians the knowledge they need on this important issue

This promotional campaign will be supported by “scientific reports” on studies that are supported by the telecommunications industry and representing bodies.

The question remains why hardly anybody, certainly not the Australian Government, engages into dialogue around whether or not space is a public good.

The Australian public will need to know if, why, when and how the Australian Government deals with the privatisation of our space. With that, whether the Government will seek consensus on the long-term safety of 5G technology, both on the human population and the environment and whether it wants to act as a guardian of places far from the gazes of humanity that will be impacted as well.

The Government will need to be transparent around whether or not consensus will be agreed upon by independent bodies of scientists and medical professionals with no ties to the telecommunications industry, Federal Government departments or associated agencies.

The Australian public also has the right to know if, when and how the Australian Government will review the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) and the type of research it uses to define social and environmental safety levels of exposure to electromagnetic radiation.

Attention needs to be paid to the State of New Hampshire, which passed law HB522 on 19 July 2019 to establish a commission to study the health and environmental effects of evolving 5G technology. If New Hampshire can do this, then the Australian Federal or any Australian State Government can do this, too.

Dr José van den Akker currently works as a Postdoc researcher at CQUniversity’s School of Education and the Arts.

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