Telstra has called on the government to help combat a misinformation campaign on the health risks of 5G that has been carried out “on a scale we have not seen” before, driven by social media.
Australian mobile telecommunications companies are only just beginning to build 5G networks around the country, but they are already facing stiff opposition from campaigns largely built online about the alleged health effects of 5G operating in higher non-ionising radio frequencies.
The Labor MP Ed Husic said during a parliamentary committee hearing examining 5G on Tuesday that politicians’ offices had been “bombarded” with emails from members of the public complaining about 5G.
Many of the over 200 submissions to the inquiry from individual members of the public or from groups of concerned citizens make claims that 5G will be hazardous to humans, and call for the government to stop companies building 5G networks in Australia.
Appearing before the inquiry on the Gold Coast, Mike Wood, Telstra’s principal for electromagnetic energy strategy, governance and risk, said the company was doing its best to educate the public about how 5G works.
He said research had been conducted on the impact of mobile networks on health, but called on the government to help with a “pro-active education campaign” to run with the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (Arpansa) because people were often unwilling to listen to Telstra.
“[People] often don’t trust Telstra,” he said.
In Telstra’s submission, the company warned that while only a “small percentage” of people were concerned, the misinformation was “gaining traction”.
“There is evidence to suggest that messaging in these campaigns is being influenced by foreign actors,” Telstra said, referencing a New York Times article claiming Russian broadcaster RT is spreading 5G health-related misinformation.
“The fears being raised need to be quickly and respectfully addressed,” the company said.
Wood said GPs would also be a good focus for a government-led education campaign.
“We think medical professionals would benefit greatly if there was better information available to GPs,” he said.
“They’ll find if the GPs are informed about the latest science, they’ll be able to find out more information.”
He said Telstra had been testing 5G since the initial test run back in 2016 and 2017, and found it had EME levels around 1,000 times lower than the public safety limit set by Arpansa. Arpansa states that high levels of exposure to radio waves can cause tissue damage, but that is currently 50 times higher than the limit.
Arpansa noted in its submission this count happens with the use of radio waves for welding, or close exposure to AM radio towers that operate at a low frequency but require higher power to travel further.
Wood told the committee that Telstra’s research had shown similar EME levels for 5G compared to 4G, 3G, wi-fi, and other household technologies like baby monitors, walkie talkies and key tags.
The Department of Communications and the Arts said in its submission that there had been an increased level of misinformation spread about 5G on social media, with use of low-quality studies put forward as evidence 5G will be dangerous.
Arpansa told the committee that its assessment was that “5G is safe”.
“Current research indicates that there is no established evidence for health effects from radio waves used in mobile telecommunications. This includes the upcoming roll-out of the 5G network.”
Several committee members raised concerns about the use of smaller cell technology meaning more network equipment needs to be installed across the country because 5G operating in higher spectrum bands can only travel around 300 metres.
Wood told the committee that small cells were mainly planned for busy areas, such as stadiums, train stations and busy parts of CBDs, and the vast majority of 5G installations would be on existing 4G towers.
“We are not going to have these things on every street pole,” Wood said.