FCC Allows Wireless Transmission Hubs on Rooftops
(What Could Go Wrong?) 

One of 11,600 small cell wireless antennas in New York City

OTARD” is an acronym for Over the Air Receiving Device, such as a rooftop antenna that “receives” a signal. The Federal Communication Commission’s OTARD rule notably “prohibits laws, regulations, or restrictions imposed by State or local governments or private entities that impair the ability of antenna users to install, maintain, or use over-the-air reception devices.” 

In January of 2021, the FCC amended the OTARD rule to include transmitting devices – which would transmit not only wireless signals for data service, but considerably more radiofrequency microwave radiation (RF/MR) in the process. Fixed wireless companies are offering private property owners and homeowners money to host point-to-point antennas on their property, as well as adding carrier-grade base station antennas, with capacity for transmitting wireless voice, video, data, including 5G signals from satellites, over a wide area. 

For all who live nearby, this amounts to an onslaught of biologically active, pulsed wireless radiation at close range. There is no advance notice, opportunity for public input or dissent, or consideration of who would be harmed in the short or long term.  Zoning laws, and bodily integrity, are preempted.  Homeowners lured by the financial aspect and internet companies’ incentives to become a hub for a local “mesh” service could themselves become sick. For those homeowners who may be unaware of wireless technology, there is no information to inform them that these transmitters, besides bringing convenient communications services, will also bring exposure to radiation capable of harming the health of humans and animals, with proximity a main factor in scale of harm. .

This would be particularly devastating to those neighbors who suffer from electromagnetic sensitivity (EMS), some of whom might already be refugees, forced out of previous homes because their bodies could not handle the close proximity to wireless radiation from cell towers, antenna arrays or smart meters. The rapid proliferation of wireless infrastructure leaves very few options for the electrically sensitive, and for them, the “Wild West” facilitated by the OTARD amendment could turn very few options for normal living and functioning into none at all. As insurance companies will not cover radiation harms, who will be liable?

Before the OTARD rule change took effect, the FCC received many formal objections via public comment. The FCC is required by the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) to respond to the objections, and show reasoned decision-making – which they did not do.  Our allies at Children’s Health Defense have filed suit under the Administrative Procedures Act, asking the court to overturn the FCC’s OTARD rule change.  They state that the FCC violated the APA by neglecting to address the objections they received, and failed to provide “significant and sufficient policy reason to justify these sweeping pre-emptions.”  The CHD argument included these points: the OTARD rule change to allow transmitting “violates constitutional rights, common law personal and property rights, and is an abuse of discretion.”  While close proximity wireless radiation is harmful to many of us, even to those who don’t feel immediate effects, those who do, suffer intensely. CHD’s case is focused on the impacts to “children and adults who suffer from a radiation sickness, or whose conditions are  aggravated by wireless radiation exposure, such as those who suffer from seizures, ADHD, and immune or neurodevelopmental conditions.”  In addition, 68 organizations representing over one million people filed an amicus brief in support of CHD’s case.  Also filed were 11 affidavits (three from experts), and 246 personal comments describing the human suffering that wireless radiation causes.  

Don’t Worry, It’s All Within The Exposure Limits

The FCC, as always, emphasizes that all transmissions will be within their “exposure limits” – and therefore, they see no basis for anyone’s objections.  It could be said that they acknowledged some objections in their text of the OTARD rule change, yet in a coldly dismissive, completely un-substantive way. The FCC claims “Revising the OTARD rule does not change the applicability of the Commission’s radio frequency exposure requirements, and fixed wireless providers must ensure that their equipment remains within the applicable exposure limits. What’s more, in 2019, the Commission declined to initiate a rulemaking to revise its RF emission exposure limits. We therefore reject certain commenters’ concerns that the OTARD rule revisions will generally lead to unsafe RF exposure levels.” This is a circular argument, where one completely false assumption – that current FCC limits are safe – is used as evidence to state that the RF exposure levels as a result of OTARD can’t possibly be unsafe.  The guideline itself rests on the untrue hypothesis that non-ionizing radiation is safe – unless it transmits with enough intensity to cause a temperature change in human tissue.  This is demonstrably false, as decades of scientific studies, and many ruined lives, have shown. And, as the FCC’s dismissive comments remind us, in 2019 they decided not to take a hard look at those exposure limits, which were set in 1991. Those 1991 exposure limits, officially adopted by the FCC in 1996, were based on proposals by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, and the American National Standards Institute – both of which lack the medical expertise and competence to assess biological and medical implications of exposure.  In a deepening trail of dangerous falsehoods, this “safety guideline” not only wrongly assumes non-thermal radiation is benign, it doesn’t take into account that the pulsed nature of wireless signals is particularly biologically active.  This document from Environmental Health Trust goes more deeply into what’s wrong with the “FCC exposure limit”, and this link is an abridged version.

Understanding that what’s considered a wireless safety guideline is based on scientific fraud is extremely important, as the phrase “within the exposure limit” is used constantly to minimize serious harm and give a false sense of safety. Adherence to the FCC exposure limit is being used to portray OTARD’s massive increase in biologically active RF/MR radiation as just a simple change in terms, with nothing to worry about.

As more and more wireless infrastructure is built on public and private property, and upon dangerously false claims, all living beings are harmed.  New York City is already ridiculously saturated with RF/MR, between cellular antennas, smart meters, wifi routers, etc.  Although it may seem hard to imagine, NYC could become drenched in even more wireless radiation because of this dangerous rule change. 

Some Good News Finally, truth is breaking through about the irresponsibility of holding to old exposure limits that don’t consider facts of biology. In a separate case filed by the Children’s Health Defense and the Environmental Health Trust v. the FCC, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals found, on August 13th, 2021, that the FCC’s 2019 decision  not to review the exposure limits it’s had since 1996 was “arbitrary and capricious”.

The FCC failed to provide a reasoned explanation, and failed to review extensive evidence. The FCC may return looking like they’ve done more homework, and we encourage you to stay updated on that case as well.  For now, it’s important to let decision-makers know that the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals agrees that these last-century “exposure limits” are not based on sufficient evidence to be the assurance they claim to be.


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