Rural residents evaluating the respective merits of Government and Opposition plans for fast broadband should have a look at the Panorama website before making up their mind because the BBC current affairs program recently reported on concerns that the Wi Fi technology proposed by the Government could carry health risks.

Those who have a reasonable internet speed can see the program as it went to air but there is also a transcript which describes how the British Government insists Wi-Fi is safe, but a Panorama investigation shows that radio frequency radiation levels in some schools are up to three times the level found in the main beam of intensity from mobile phone masts.

The BBC reported there have been no studies on the health effects of Wi-Fi equipment, but thousands on mobile phones and masts. The radiation Wi-Fi emits is similar to that from mobile phone masts. It is an unavoidable by-product of going wireless.

The big potential danger highlighted by Panorama is the impact of Wi Fi radiation on school children. It quotes Sir William Stewart, now chairman of the Health Protection Agency, who headed the government’s inquiry into the safety of mobile phone masts and health back in 2000, recalling “We recommended, because we were sensitive about children… that masts should not necessarily impact directly on areas where children were exposed, like playgrounds and that.”

But what about Wi-Fi? asked Panorama. The technology is similar to mobile phone masts and in use in 70 per cent of secondary schools and 50 per cent of primary schools.

Panorama visited a school in Norwich, with more than 1,000 pupils, to compare the level of radiation from a typical mobile phone mast with that of Wi-Fi in the classroom.

Readings taken for the programme showed the height of signal strength to be three times higher in the school classroom using Wi-Fi than the main beam of radiation intensity from a mobile phone mast.

The findings are particularly significant because children’s skulls are thinner and still forming and tests have shown they absorb more radiation than adults.

The readings were well beneath the government’s safety limits – as much as 600 times below – but some scientists suspect the whole basis of our safety limits may be wrong.

Panorama spoke to a number of scientists who questioned the safety limits and were concerned about the possible health effects of such radiation.

“If you look in the literature, you have a large number of various effects like chromosome damage, you have impact on the concentration capacity and decrease in short term memory, increases in the number of cancer incidences,” said Professor Olle Johansson of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.

Another scientist, Dr Gerd Oberfeld, from Salzburg is now calling for Wi-Fi to be removed from schools.

He said: “If you go into the data you can see a very very clear picture – it is like a puzzle and everything fits together from DNA break ups to the animal studies and up to the epidemiological evidence; that shows for example increased symptoms as well as increased cancer rates.”



Peter Barnes, IT project manager, writes: Neither the government nor the opposition is proposing Wi-Fi as the solution for broadband Internet access in rural areas. Farmer states that “Panorama, the BBC current affairs program recently reported on concerns that the Wi-Fi technology proposed by the Government could carry health risks”. Wi-Fi is a brand licensed by the Wi-Fi Alliance to describe the embedded technology of wireless local area networks (WLAN). This is the very common wireless access to computer networks found in offices, cafés, universities, airports, hotels, schools and many homes. As a Wi-Fi broadcast point has a very limited range, it is not all suitable for providing access to the Internet over wide areas. The technology that is proposed for providing rural broadband access is known as WiMax. If the Panorama report is correct, and is about Wi-Fi, there is real cause for concern. This is not about some technology that is proposed, but about wireless radiation from existing technology that a very large number of workers and students are exposed every day, and maybe 24 hours a day if they live in, or next to, a house using a wireless access point.

Luke Mawbey writes: Richard Farmer’s article incorrectly states that the government’s broadband plan uses Wi-Fi. The government’s broadband plan uses WiMAX. Whilst the names may be similar, the standards, implementation, and spectra are different, making any reference to Wi-Fi void in the discussion on WiMAX. If the journalist doesn’t even understand the differences in the technologies then it concerns me that he feels qualified to report on such issues as the basic understanding required to provide an analysis (objective or otherwise) is clearly absent.

Richard Farmer writes: Luke Mawbey might think WiFi and WiMax are so different that we should not be concerned about the BBC Panorama program on WiFi but I notice a group of lawmakers from the ruling and opposition camps in Taiwan have urged their government to impose strict controls on the erection of WiMAX base stations, which they said pose a great risk to the health of those living nearby. See the report here on main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) lawmaker Wang Yu-ting and her ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) counterpart Tien Chiu-chin issuing the call at a news conference after government authorities recently revealed a plan to allow for the establishment of WiMAX (worldwide interoperability for microwave access) base stations. Wang and Tien asked the National Communications Commission (NCC) to review its planned opening of WiMAX base stations and demanded that it not issue licenses for base stations before WiMAX safety has been fully assured. According to the two legislators, WiMAX base stations will be more powerful than cell phone base stations in transmitting electromagnetic radiation, posing an even greater health threat.

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