Providence Announces 5G Plans Amid Potential Health Risks

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

Wireless equipment like this found on a utility pole at the corner of Rochambeau Avenue and Blackstone Boulevard in Providence will likely be installed across the city under plans for a new 5G network. City officials, RIDOT, and National Grid, which owns the pole, have been slow to answer questions about the equipment. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

Wireless equipment like this found on a utility pole at the corner of Rochambeau Avenue and Blackstone Boulevard in Providence will likely be installed across the city under plans for a new 5G network. City officials, RIDOT, and National Grid, which owns the pole, have been slow to answer questions about the equipment. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

PROVIDENCE — Despite a lack of oversight and concerns about possible health risks, the city is moving forward with a 5G wireless communication network.

On March 25, city officials announced the first phase of the rollout of a 5th Generation (5G), small-cell microwave communication network. The system promises to provide faster Internet service and offer expanded capacity for networks that assist driverless vehicles, wireless electricity meters, and other so-called “smart devices.”

Similar 5G network proposals are facing community opposition around the country over possible health effects. Opponents point to the close-range antennas and equipment boxes that increase human exposure to mid-range radio waves than existing cell networks.

To operate effectively, 5G systems need to be spaced about 200 feet apart. They are often affixed to utility poles and streetlights close to homes and schools.

The health effects of 5G are largely untested and unknown. There have been limited studies that show harm to mice and rats from exposure to older 2G and 3G radio waves. Some communities want to halt installations until 5G is proven safe or exposure standards are set.

In Danville, Calif., the Town Council blocked Verizon from receiving a 5G wireless permit after residents complained about health issues. Communities in Colorado, Maryland, Oregon, Texas, and Wyoming and in Europe are asking for moratoriums on 5G deployment.

Massachusetts has several bills looking at the health risks associated with 5G wireless technology and other wireless equipment.

In February, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., criticized the Federal Communications Commission and the Food and Drug Administration for not studying the health effects of 5G technology.

“So there really is no research ongoing,” Blumenthal said during a committee hearing. “We’re kind of flying blind here, as far as health and safety is concerned.”

Meanwhile, 5G equipment is showing up along Rhode Island roads. But getting information on how they got there and plans about the technology’s deployment in Rhode Island has been difficult. Verizon, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, the governor’s office, the city of Providence, and the University of Rhode Island have stonewalled questions on the issue. Gov. Gina Raimondo was a booster of a 5G rollout and promoted legislation that preempts cities and towns from regulating the installation of such systems.

In response to questions about health risks, the city said it’s asking potential bidders to consider the health and wellness of Providence residents.

Discussion about the buildup of wireless devices is expected to take place during an April 9 workshop hosted by the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission and its Power Sector Transformation Group.