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Environment groups file case to stop 5G roll-out in France

5G tests are currently being carried out by mobile phone operators in over 100 different sites across France before its rollout by the end of 2020.
5G tests are currently being carried out by mobile phone operators in over 100 different sites across France before its rollout by the end of 2020. (Reuters/Sergio Perez)

Two NGOs in France have filed a case to stop the government from awarding licences to use frequencies allocated to 5G networks. The French government wants to roll out 5G across the country by the end of 2020.

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The two French non-governmental organisations filed a case on 17 February in the Conseil d’Etat, the country’s highest administrative court, requesting a halt to the public tender for 5G licences.

The four mobile phone operators in France, SFR, Bouygues Telecom, Orange and Free, have until 25 February to file an application for a licence to ARCEP, the independent organisation which regulates telecommunications in France.

The two NGOs also launched a “Stop5G” petition on 24 January which has already collected over 65,000 signatures.

Agir pour l’Environnement, an environmental advocacy group, and Priartem, which campaigns against the dangers of electromagnetic fields, say that there are no available studies on the health and environment impact of the 5G network and the frequencies it will use.

They say that ANSES, the French Agency for Health and Safety published a report on 27 January, three days after their Stop5G petition was launched, where it said it “knows nothing” about its potential dangers.

ANSES is due to research and report on the issue in 2021, in other words after the 5G rollout in France scheduled for later this year.

The NGOs say they are not against progress but they would like to see the deployment of 5G in France delayed, at least until scientists have had enough time to assess its health and environmental impact.

'Humans as guinea pigs'

Stephen Kerckhove, from Agir pour l’Environnement, told RFI that they do not want to see studies carried out after the 5G frequencies have already been allocated.

“We do not want a situation where humans are used as guinea pigs to assess the impact of 5G,” he said.

He clams that the French National Frequency Agency (ANFR)  has already reported that there will be an eight-fold increase in the number of areas with high exposure to radio frequencies  from 5G networks and that these will be, for a large part, in densely populated urban areas.

“It is unfortunate that there is this pressing need to go fast and bypass scientists who just cannot work at the same speed as technological innovation”, Kerckhove added.

Tests in France

5G technical tests are currently being carried out by the four mobile operators in over 100 different sites across France, including big cities like Bordeaux, Marseille, Lille and Paris.

The government says that ANSES is closely following the tests and using the data produced to update its scientific evaluation of electromagnetic fields.

The French government will allocate frequencies in the 3.4 - 3.8 GHz band for 5G network.

The NGOs argue that no one knows how harmful that may be for humans as these frequencies have a very large radio spectrum and can cover large areas.

But the French government’s response is that it has already put in a place a series of policies and legal frameworks – like the 2015 ‘Abeille’ law – to monitor how 5G is to be deployed in the country.

Such mechanisms are designed for the protection of individuals against electromagnetic fields and are based on recommendations from the European Union and World Health Organisation.

The NGOs also fear it will lead to higher energy consumption and electricity bills. Furthermore, consumers will also need to buy new 5G compatible mobile phones.

5G advantages

5G goes beyond traditional mobile broadband network.

It offers superfast mobile connection, low latency (delays) and enables a greater number of devices to be connected to one another other at the same time without saturating the network.

But 5G does more than just enabling fast, smooth streaming of films or revolutionising video games. It should help to develop self-driving cars, smart cities, mobile health services, innovative industrial machines – such as robots working in mines.

"Everybody and everything will be using 5G networks to communicate in the future,” said Urve Palo, Estonia's former information technology minister (the country is a European leader in digital public services) in 2017, when EU ministers signed a roadmap to help position Europe as the lead market for 5G.

France catches up on 5G

5G has been deployed in a few places, such as South Korea and certain areas in the United States.

In Europe, 5G services are available in nine countries, including Spain and Britain, making France one the last large European nations to adopt the technology.

Sébastien Nadot, an independent member of Parliament, told RFI that the economic stakes are high.

“The very strong globalised competition, with players such as the United States or China is unlikely to lead to solutions that are completely satisfactory from the point of view of health and the environment, but France must not give into an easy solution,” he said.

“However, we need to find the balance between the positive aspects of 5G and the potential risks it contains. I think it is neither more nor less than the debate on progress."

Follow Stephen Kerckhove on Twitter @skerckhove

Follow Sébastien Nadot on Twitter @Sebastien_Nadot

Follow Zeenat Hansrod on Twitter @zxnt

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