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FCC Asked To Reassess Cell Phone Radiation Guidelines 78

Posted by Soulskill
from the everybody-is-surprisingly-reasonable dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A U.S. government report released on Tuesday says the Federal Communications Commission needs to update its guidelines for limiting cell phone radio-frequency exposure. The limit was set in 1996 to an exposure rate of 1.6 watts per kilogram, and has not been updated since. The report does not advocate in favor of any particular research, and actually points out that the limit could possibly be raised, but says the FCC's rules have not kept pace with recent studies on the subject one way or the other. An executive for The Wireless Association said, 'The FCC has been vigilant in its oversight in this area and has set safety standards to make sure that radio frequency fields from wireless phones remain at what it has determined are safe levels. The FCC's safety standards include a 50-fold safety factor and, as the FCC has noted, are the most conservative in the world.'"
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FCC Asked To Reassess Cell Phone Radiation Guidelines

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    RF power eats battery anyway and longer range just means bigger areas which share the bandwidth. At the same time technology improves and can make use of lower and lower signal levels. What is the point of raising a safety limit if there isn't even a technical benefit? (Wifi power limits for example are not even meant to be safety limits but to allow everyone a fair share of a scarce resource.)

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by MrEricSir (398214)

      Of course there's a technical benefit -- more power means you can use the phone further from a tower. If you're in an area where coverage is scarce, wouldn't you trade a decrease in battery life for an increase in signal?

      • by jhoegl (638955)
        If the My balls are just fine at 1.6 watts per kilo, raise that higher and I might just father a mutant that can run through walls.
        But dont blame me, blame the FCC.
      • by wierd_w (1375923) on Wednesday August 08, 2012 @05:23PM (#40923829)

        I believe the implication of GP was to use lower signal thresholds, reduce number of people per tower, increase battery life, and build more infrastructure.

        The issue you raise is exactly the inverse: be cheap bastards, waste energy needlessly, be pennywise and pound foolish, jam everybody from an extended service area onto a single shared network cell, and get shittier battery life.

        Lt me think about that one for a moment..... nope, GP's idea is just all around better and more reasonable.

        • by Rakishi (759894)

          Yes because we know every part of the world is exactly identical with the same terrain, cell tower site availability, population density and cell phone usage. *rolls eyes*

          I guess you want there to be fifty cell phone towers per person in the Alaskan wilderness, I wonder which cell tower builder you work for.

        • by LurkerXXX (667952)

          That might be good logic to you in NYC, but when you are in the vast majority of the actual Country, the midwest and western states do exist, contention for a tower in a large area isn't a real worry. The worry is getting signal when you are a long way from the nearest tower. And putting those towers up to service a handful of people isn't cheap.

          • by wierd_w (1375923)

            In low density areas, high broadcast strength antennas and towers are sensible.

            The trouble is that cellular companies want a one size fits all tower deployment plan, and want to put high energy towers in or near urban areas, resulting in the congestions that plaugue them, and cause them to argue for bandwidth caps.

            The solution is to implement mixed bag deployment, but that increases logistical costs.

            For an urban areas, which is what the GGP was explicitly referring to, many small towers at lower broadcast p

            • by dgatwood (11270)

              For an urban areas, which is what the GGP was explicitly referring to, many small towers at lower broadcast power make all the sense in the word.

              Until you try to talk while riding in a car, on a bus, or on a train using a bunch of towers with coverage area comparable to that of Wi-Fi hotspots. Then, when those tiny cells have an overlap of only ten or fifteen feet and the tower handoff takes more than the hundred or so milliseconds available for such a quick handoff, suddenly your call drops every hundred

              • by wierd_w (1375923)

                What I would consider ideal for urban cellular would be closer to towers with a 1mile radius (2 mile diameter), with about a 200ft overlap zone. Unless you are belting down the freeway doing well over most metro speed limits, you won't have handoff issues that way. You also mitigate the "thousands of scubscribers shoehorned into one tower" nightmare, but you do exchange that for a "now I have to plan how I deploy my microcells for maximum effective coverage" nightmare. Most dense urban areas have lots of t

                • by dgatwood (11270)

                  For maximal handoff, each phone should always see 3 microcells to pick from.

                  *shrugs* Most of the time, my phone can see anywhere from 5-8 full-size towers. I still have regular handoff failures (on average, 2-3 failures per hour) at highway speeds. I suspect if you crank the cell size down that much, you're going to need something closer to a 1 mile overlap zone, where you can always see the current tower, the last tower, and the next tower no matter what direction you're traveling....

                  Then again, it's po

            • by Sollord (888521)

              NIMBY is the major issue with that idea as its hard enough to get towers in some locations as it is and tripling or quadrupling the numbers will be almost impossible.

            • In low density areas, high broadcast strength antennas and towers are sensible.

              The trouble is that cellular companies want a one size fits all tower deployment plan, and want to put high energy towers in or near urban areas, resulting in the congestions that plaugue them, and cause them to argue for bandwidth caps.

              The solution is to implement mixed bag deployment, but that increases logistical costs.

              For an urban areas, which is what the GGP was explicitly referring to, many small towers at lower broadcast power make all the sense in the word.

              The GP, arguing that it makes perfect sense technologically to raise power to get more people on fewer towers, over greater distances is either explicitly referring to completely rural roverage zones, or is an idiot.

              For the sake of civility, I will assume the former.

              Still, as a rural subscriber, I am happy with T-mobile's wifi hotspot support for android handsets. It also comes in really handy for office building deadzones and other service nightmare situations in ruban settings as well.

              Clearly a hybrid solution is ideal.

              They all ready do this, mostly because in urban areas cranking the signal up to 11 hurts your transmission because the signal bounces around so much you induce noise with multibounce. The only solution in urban areas is more towers with less power, out in suburban and rural areas the signal can be transmitted at the max level and not increase the noise floor drastically. In suburban and rural areas a perimeter can be set up fairly cheaply that could allow the tower to broadcast above the current legal Tx p

        • by thegarbz (1787294)

          Except you idea comes with some other inconvenient baggage called "cost".

          The mobile phone companies are doing well enough increasing rates without actually justifying them with the requirements to build new towers. This isn't a high powered single frequency system where you can blanket a city with a handful of towers. Mobile towers literally need to be scattered in grids every km or so around a city, more so in a dense population area.

          Also tower and power have nothing to do with load on a network cell. You

    • by fisted (2295862)
      well sometimes it is just ... convenient (read: rendering the infeasible feasible) to TX with a little more power.
      • by wierd_w (1375923)

        This is true if your signal attenuates quickly, (2.4ghz band...) or if you are trying to overcome ambient RF noise (powerlines, solar wind hitting the atmosphere, sparkgaps in momentary contact motors, etc...), but for cellphones the impetus is usually just to shout over the sea of other similar devices, the makers of which all all do exactly the same, negating any potential benefit.

        Further, any percieved benefit for longer effective range for handset will be lost due to more people on fewer towers.

    • by icebike (68054) * on Wednesday August 08, 2012 @05:38PM (#40923985)

      RF power eats battery anyway and longer range just means bigger areas which share the bandwidth. At the same time technology improves and can make use of lower and lower signal levels. What is the point of raising a safety limit if there isn't even a technical benefit? (Wifi power limits for example are not even meant to be safety limits but to allow everyone a fair share of a scarce resource.)

      The GAO doesn't want to raise the safety limit, they want to push them lower. (requiring lower emissions).

      However, they couldn't find a shred of evidence to support that, and were forced to dedicate their entire first paragraph to saying exactly that. Still, the radio-phobic lobby group pressured them into releasing a report asking the FCC to do SOMETHING, anything, and "Won't somebody please think of the children??!!!?".

      Yes, phones can get away with less power today, due to better signal processing, but that just pushes us back into the same problems we faced with range limited devices of the past. And, no, wifi power limits in phones are SPECIFICALLY to address (largely irrational) concerns about specific absorption of radio waves.

      Every phone goes through Specific Absorption testing, on ALL bands that they emit, and they all pass the most stringent tests, because manufacturers dont' want to have yet another thing to worry about in country A as opposed to country B, so they design for the tightest standards.

      Most people don't even hold their phone to their head anymore. This was the big boogy man of the past. So now they want to worry about the phone you carry in your pocket, no doubt because of a upswing in buttocks cancer.

      There is just no evidence that anything at all should be done. Trace this to the source and you find people who insist they can sense wifi routers.

  • Yea but... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Narcocide (102829) on Wednesday August 08, 2012 @05:12PM (#40923683) Homepage

    AM radio causes cancer

  • Everybody I see is either texting or surfing the web and rarely speaking. This "phones cause brain cancer" concern eliminated itself due to a change in user behavior.

    • by ELCouz (1338259)
      You still have the pocket problem... You don't want 200 watts of RF near your balls!
      Don't forget most people put their phone in their pockets, some on them always at the same place! Sure, it's better to have skin cancer than brain one (debated I know) but still don't increase the RF limit just for the lack of towers (bad signal).
      • by cpu6502 (1960974)

        Nobody around here uses their balls anyway. And the extra power could be useful when you're broadcasting from the basement. (ducking and running)

      • skin cancer

        There's a patch for that [slashdot.org]

      • by icebike (68054) *

        You still have the pocket problem... You don't want 200 watts of RF near your balls!

        My balls aren't in my pocket.
        Most people keep a phone in their back pocket.

        But I see you have fallen for the nonsense that radio transmitters, even pathetically weak ones, cause cancer.
        You are precisely one the people the GAO wrote this report for.

      • by plover (150551) *

        Cell phones definitely kill people. There's no question that many people die due to cellular telephone usage. However, the full cause of death is "blunt force trauma due to vehicular accident caused by a driver distracted by a cellular telephone." And we know that increasing the transmission power of cell phones is designed to increase the range of places where cell phones will work, which will mean more people talking or texting while driving, which ultimately will lead to even more deaths.

        If you want t

      • Current limits of cellphones are 2W for digital and 3.6 for analog most cell phones only emit .3W peak. Increasing the legal Tx power will not endanger your balls, as radiating you balls with 2W would drain your battery in about a half an hour giving you at most 5 hours a day of ball nuking, (16 waking hours, 1 hour charge, .5 hours ball nuke). It would be similar to radiating you nuts with a .4W source 24hours a day.
    • by slick7 (1703596)

      Everybody I see is either texting or surfing the web and rarely speaking. This "phones cause brain cancer" concern eliminated itself due to a change in user behavior.

      Of course the levels will be higher, then, Cons-gress will bail out the banksters and Wall-em-up Street.
      Remember, Iceland did it right.

  • Why bother? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Hatta (162192) on Wednesday August 08, 2012 @05:33PM (#40923945) Journal

    No studies have shown that there is any danger from RF so there's no reason to lower the limit. Cell phones seem to work pretty well with the power level we have now, so there's no reason to raise it. Why not just leave well enough alone?

    • by Misagon (1135)

      No, there have been studies that have shown that the kind of radiation that is used by some cell phone standards do indeed have non-thermal effects on brain cells in humans and rats, respectively.

      It is just that people tend to look only for thermal effects and ionizing effects (mutating DNA, which can cause cancer) and that is what safety guidelines in Europe and the USA have been based on, so far. That is what is not enough.

      • by Hatta (162192)

        No, there have been studies that have shown that the kind of radiation that is used by some cell phone standards do indeed have non-thermal effects on brain cells in humans and rats, respectively.

        Hate to be cliche, but citation needed.

        • A quick search turned up this: Cell Phone Hazards Part I [heartmdinstitute.com] and Part II [heartmdinstitute.com].

          TL;DR: the current standards are insufficient because they are not measuring all the right things.

          • by plover (150551) *

            That guy sure likes to sell books, doesn't he? And stirring up controversy about things like the "health risks" of 100 milliwatts of non-ionizing radiation sells books to people who are hypersensitive to scare stories.

            He even "Rationalizes the Precautionary Principle", which is another way of saying "be scared because you're ignorant, not because there are actual facts." Here's the deal: if cell phones were even a measurable (not even minor, simply measurable) contributor to illness, there are billions o

          • by ceoyoyo (59147)

            All you came up with is "The Heart MD Institute?" You can do better than a crazy who can't even get basic facts correct. There are a few (a very few) studies in the actual scientific literature that show some "non-thermal" effects. They might be false positives or flawed, and don't actually show any danger, but at least try to be scientific.

          • by Hatta (162192)

            Uhh, yeah... I rest my case.

    • Plenty of "studies" have shown a causal link between RF and negative health effects such as cancer, benign tumors, birth defect, etc. But as far as I know there have been reasons to be skeptical of the results in every case. Usually problems with the sample size or a selection bias. I really do require some extraordinary proof of cellular damage from low power non-ionoizing radiation. Sunlight contains ionizing radiation, and we are (generally) aware of the risk and manage it appropriately. RF energy from a

      • The issue is that not one of the positive studies has been repeatable.

      • by ceoyoyo (59147)

        Actually, very few studies have shown links between RF and negative health effects. Some have shown possible effects of RF in petrie-dishes, but nothing definitively harmful.

        And yes, even those are not particularly reproducible or reliable.

    • by Kennon (683628)
      Because somewhere there is a bureaucrat sitting around trying to justify his/her existence? As is the case with many government regulations.
    • by thegarbz (1787294)

      Cell phones seem to work pretty well with the power level we have now, so there's no reason to raise it.

      Cell phones only seem to work pretty well because of the amount of pain and effort that has gone into making them work with the limited power they produce. We have blanketed cities with RF towers everywhere. Where there's no RF towers there's panel antennas hanging on building tops. The weak point of these systems are always the uplink back to the tower.

      Increasing the power limits could dramatically reduce the cost and complexity of the next upgrade cycle for carriers and simplify their ability to provide g

  • by CuteSteveJobs (1343851) on Wednesday August 08, 2012 @05:51PM (#40924139)
    >The FCC's safety standards include a 50-fold safety factor and, as the FCC has noted, are the most conservative in the world.'

    That's hardly a reason to change them. The reason America escaped the thalidomide epidemic was that it's drug approval standards were the safest in the world. FDA Reviewer Frances Oldham Kelsey who upheld those standards received the President's Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service for not lowering those standards despite heavy pressure from drugmakers. She is the reason some readers still have their arms. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frances_Oldham_Kelsey [wikipedia.org]

    So don't just water down a standard just because "everyone else is doing it." Do it on hard evidence. That the FCC cites "everyone else is doing in" is a cause for concern.
    • > So don't just water down a standard just because "everyone else is doing it." Do it on hard evidence.

      But that's not the issue here. There is plenty of hard evidence.

      The issue here is neo-luddites and so on holding us hostage for no reason.

    • by Fastolfe (1470)

      This is all about cost vs. benefit, right?

      The costs of lax safety standards could include injury or death. In many cases, the risks can't be adequately assessed, or they can be, but a lot of people don't believe them. In these situations, fear influences our perception of risk, and that perception of risk factors into the costs. We get benefits from lax safety standards too. Products are cheaper to make. Sometimes technologies are easier to design and implement.

      On the flip side, excessively conservativ

    • by guruevi (827432)

      RF frequencies at those levels doesn't do any harm and has been proven in hundreds of studies. 1.6W/kg is nothing as MRI's which have no side effects whatsoever can easily submit you to 10W/kg.

    • by AC15 (1720178)
      Standards that are too conservative stifle innovation and kill people by denying them access to drugs, technology, etc. Engineering (and life in general) is not about perfect safety or reckless risk. It is about a reasonable trade-off between the two. As for Frances Oldham Kelsey, she suspected thalidomide could cause neuropathy in users. She never mentioned any concerns about teratogenic effects on gestating children until after it was reported in the press. The bottom line is that she was dragging he
  • Loonies all (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cdrguru (88047) on Wednesday August 08, 2012 @05:56PM (#40924187) Homepage

    The problem is people do not understand. There is a substantial minority that believe electric power transmission lines are hazardous - not just when the wire breaks but living, playing, working or existing near one is a hazard. These people always know a friend of a friend that went to the doctor and was told they had cancer and it was because of electric power lines.

    Such people show up at public comment sessions and pretty much mean that new transmission lines are NOT BUILT anywhere near them. Put five such people in a room and it is a done deal. The transmission line companies have no defense really - science and things like evidence are not a factor with public comment sessions. See why I think the new "smart grid" is a non-starter?

    So, we have pseudo-doctors handing out diagnoses of RF Sensitivity and Environmental Sensitivity and such. There is pressure on insurance companies to pay on such claims. We now have a Congressman that wants to put warning stickers on every cell phone, thereby legitimizing this nonsense.

    This is not going to end well. Would you like to live in a world where RF emissions were considered to be a cause of cancer and we were all protected by strong federal regulations against such things?

    • by T Murphy (1054674)

      ...science and things like evidence are not a factor with public comment sessions. See why I think the new "smart grid" is a non-starter?

      Case in point, my city wants to implement smart grid technology, complete with meters that wirelessly transmit information. Public comment sessions were largely driven by these anti-radiation people, and they even distributed fliers trying to scare people with the dangers of radiation (including attributing dangers of nuclear radiation to EM radiation).

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