The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) recently released an Order, Further Notice of Rulemaking (Further Notice) and Notice of Inquiry (NOI) on radio frequency (RF) exposure limits and policies. The FCC explains that its action is intended to ensure that its rules regarding RF exposure comply with federal environmental requirements and that the public is appropriately protected from any potential adverse effects from RF exposure from mobile phones and other devices, as well as from transmitting towers and other communications facilities.
The Commission took care to note that the rule changes adopted in the Order and proposed in the Further Notice do not alter the existing RF exposure limits or have a practical effect on human exposure to RF radiation. Rather, the new rules and proposals consist of technical changes in how RF exposure is evaluated and how compliance with the existing RF exposure limit is demonstrated. Lastly, the NOI seeks to create a comprehensive and fresh record that reflects the scientific research that has taken place since the current RF exposure limits were adopted in 1996.
Many companies are likely to take an interest in this proceeding given its potential to affect an array of sectors, including: communications and Internet technology companies, wireless device manufacturers, communications infrastructure providers and healthcare and energy companies. Although the effective date of the new rules depend on when they are published in the Federal Register, we expect that they will likely take effect in June, and we expect that comments and reply comments on the Further Notice and NOI will be due in late summer or early autumn 2013.
A summary and analysis of the FCC actions follows:
1. In the Order:
Regarding evaluation of RF exposure, the FCC:
Regarding mitigation of RF exposure, the FCC:
2. In the Further Notice, the FCC proposes:
3. As noted earlier, the NOI initiates a more comprehensive, fresh examination of RF issues. Areas of inquiry include:
The worldwide scientific community has conducted research into the health effects of RF emissions for many years. To date, available scientific evidence—including the World Health Organization’s findings in its Interphone Study released May 17, 2010—shows no increased health risk due to RF energy. Taken as a whole, the Order, Further Notice and NOI suggest that the FCC is willing to explore this subject in a dispassionate manner; according to the FCC, “our intent is to adequately protect the public without imposing an undue burden on industry.”
On the other hand, discussion of possible health effects resulting from RF emission exposure tends to stir passions and elicit a great deal of input, especially at the consumer level. This has been the case with respect to requests to site broadcast communication facilities, consumer use of wireless phones and transitions to the use of “smart meters” by energy companies. For these reasons, the FCC is likely to receive a larger than usual number of comments filed directly by consumers. We also expect the proceeding to be lengthy: likely spanning over a few years.
Given these factors, it appears that entities that employ and/or sell devices that emit RF energy may be best suited to provide the FCC with an ample record of fact-based, scientific analysis on the efficacy, currency and adequacy of the RF exposure regulations, and to propose new policy approaches if necessary. Indeed, the agency will require a great deal of specific, supported data, along with cogent, legally-sustainable policy justification, as it attempts to equitably balance the health and safety of the public with the costs and potential burdens on the business community.
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