A resolution passed unanimously Wednesday by the County Council refers to 5G technology as an option in bridging the digital divide, but council members, most of whom had previously approved two resolutions attempting to limit 5G on the island, don’t see it as a conflict.
Resolution 43, sponsored by Hamakua Councilwoman Heather Kimball and Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz, requests that the county adopt the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism’s broadband strategic plan and create an implementation plan that advances public and private initiatives to ensure equitable access to internet services.
The nonbinding resolution also urges the county to sign on to the digital equity declaration drafted by a statewide broadband hui and to support certain bills in the state Legislature that, among other actions, create a state grant program to help pay for infrastructure and push for broadband access in schools and public housing.
Kohala Councilman Tim Richards praised the measure. He said his experience with the National Association of Counties highlights concern on the national level for connectivity, especially in rural communities.
“The inability of rural communities to connect is strangling advancement of rural communities,” Richards said. “The pandemic has shown that we as a county and we as a nation need to embrace technology going forward.”
Addressing questions from Richards and Hilo Councilman Aaron Chung, Kimball said the resolution isn’t at odds with previous nonbinding resolutions by the council.
“The broadband strategic plan does mention 5G but it doesn’t prescribe. … This does not prescribe 5G by any means but it doesn’t preclude it,” Kimball said. “It doesn’t matter what shoes you’re wearing. You’ve just got to be moving.”
One prior resolution by the council supported a group that petitioned in federal court for stricter environmental review before the Federal Communications Commission approves wireless communication facilities and other sources of radiofrequency emissions. Another one calls for telecommunication companies and public utilities operating in the county to halt 5G development until independent research and testing concludes it is safe for humans.
5G technology brings increased speed and greater bandwidth to telecommunications, allowing applications such as telemedicine, for example. But concerns linger about its safety.
The World Health Organization is conducting a health risk assessment from exposure to radiofrequencies, covering the entire radiofrequency range, including 5G, to be published by 2022. WHO said in a February, 2020, update that “To date, and after much research performed, no adverse health effect has been causally linked with exposure to wireless technologies.”
That’s not enough to convince some council members, who want to embrace safety first.
“Not everybody may be as sensitive (to 5G millimeter waves). It’s kind of like vog. Some people aren’t sensitive at all and some are deathly sensitive to it,” said Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas. “It behooves us to remain sensitive to all these different frequencies.”