By Tanya Waterworth and Duncan Guy
Durban – A new government policy proposal for the rapid rollout of 5G technology allows networks to build a 5G tower on your property.
Communications and Digital Technologies Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams gazetted the new draft policy this week, which is open for public comment for the next 30 days.
In the drive for cheaper, faster data and high connectivity, the policy said electronic communication network services could select, enter and use land of their choice for the purpose of “constructing, maintaining, altering or removing their networks or facilities”.
Should an owner damage a network or facility on their property, they would have to cough up “compensation”.
The policy said the network provider must notify the property owner with 30 days calendar notice in writing of its “proposed property access activity”, which must be determined in consultation with the owner.
No access fee could be charged by the owner, except in cases of “intrusive electronic communications networks or facilities, such as masts”, when a “reasonable access fee” may be charged.
Disputes over “reasonability” would be resolved by the complaints and compliance committee of the Independent Communications Authority of SA.
The draft policy document said widespread coverage was necessary to create a digital economy and digital society, with “high speed, high quality networks” “for advanced connected devices and services, while ensuring that rural areas do not lag behind.
“The emergence of 5G networks will enable autonomous vehicles on our roads as well as various other disruptive technologies of the 4th Industrial Revolution.”
But rights groups Dear South Africa and Change.org have raised the issue of property holders’ rights and health risks with regard to the proposed 5G roll-out.
Environmental scientist Laura Taylor, who claims she has extensively researched electro-magnetic radiation (EMR) measurement, said while the unfettered access to private property would be a violation of a property owner’s constitutional rights, there were also potential health hazards.
“No one has declared this new form of radiation safe and it has barely been tested by the telecoms community internationally. They are flying blind on the health and environmental effects and putting profit before people
“They (5G towers) will have to be around every 500m to work. They operate at a much higher frequency than previous cellphone technology. This will be rolled out on top of existing 1G, 2G, 3G, 4G networks, which will not go away.
“It adds to the increasing sandwich of harmful effects to human health and the environment. Already thousands of studies and 20000 peer-reviewed papers have shown the harmful effects of EMR caused by non-ionising radiation.”
The development of autonomous cars cited in the proposal is “absurd” in the South African context.
“We certainly don’t have a shortage of drivers and this specific technology would require such intensive deployment of 5G we have absolutely no idea of the implications.”
DA MP Cameron Mackenzie welcomed the policy proposal. “Despite some wide sensationalist interpretations, the necessity for a rapid deployment policy is apparent following the withdrawal of the deeply flawed Electronic Communications Amendment Act tabled and then withdrawn at the end of the fifth Parliament.
“During discussions and public participation process at the time, one area of agreement among all stakeholders, including government, opposition parties, telecommunications companies and civil society was clear - the need for fast, ubiquitous broadband infrastructure and the importance of guidelines to remove obstacles to progress in terms of network roll-out,” he said.
While the policy looked to remove obstacles, “it certainly doesn’t mean telecoms companies will arbitrarily pitch up at an individual’s home demanding access to the garden to erect a cellphone mast.
“Rather, there are many tales of companies laying fibre, for example, to create national broadband network being stopped by local municipalities or landowners in deep rural areas from trenching, leading to delays or very expensive rerouting around disputed areas. Less costly network roll-out means cheaper data costs for consumers.
“In the event that access is disputed, an extensive process for an appeals tribunal has been proposed and any legislative changes or regulation flowing from this policy must adhere to all existing legislation, including property rights enshrined in the Constitution.”
IFP MP and spokesperson on communications and digital technologies, Zandile Majozi, said it had called on the government “to exercise precaution” in the nationwide roll out of 5G.
“The speed at which 5G has been rolled out has been unprecedented in terms of what the ordinary processes are, for which telecommunication networks should prove that the possible adverse health effects are taken into consideration.
“The IFP have been at the forefront in requesting government to place a moratorium on the roll out of 5G until it is proven to be a safe technology.”
Majozi added it had “urged government on numerous occasions to conduct independent studies, not paid-for studies by lobbyist groups and competing telecoms networks” as well as “to look into the myriad health factors before we go ahead”.
None of the major telecoms companies nor the minister’s spokesperson responded to requests for comment.
Submissions, by September 30, may be sent to The Acting Director-General, Department of Communications and Digital Technologies, email: [email protected]; cellphone: 0837140126 (R L Motlatla)
Independent on Saturday