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CTIA Locks Horns with San Francisco on Keeping the Public in the Dark on SAR Data

In a _______ (insert your own adjective. Suggested options: decisive, bold, stupid, vengeful, piquish, insane) act yesterday, CTIA-The Wireless Association challenged the City of San Francisco on whether continuing convention business from CTIA was more important than a certain action the elected representatives of the city recently took.

So what was this action that was so worthy of this strong and decisive retaliation from the cellular establishment?
• Were they putting a new tax on cell phones?
• Were they requiring recycling of cell phones?
• Were they regulating the ugliness of cell towers?
• Were they limiting the sale of anonymous prepaid cellphones to drug dealers and gang members?

No, even worse! Here is how the San Franscisco Examiner described SF’s horrific anti-cellular establishment deed:

The city's Board of Supervisors on Tuesday gave final approval to the country's first law requiring cell phone retailers to post the amount of radiation emitted by the phones they sell.

The board voted 10-1 to approve the first-of-its-kind ordinance that requires stores to disclose each phone's specific absorption rate, or SAR.

The measure is backed by Mayor Gavin Newsom, who is expected to sign it within 10 days.

"From our perspective, this is a very reasonable and quite modest measure that will provide greater transparency and information to consumers for whom this is an area of interest or concern," said Newsom spokesman Tony Winnicker, who noted that the mayor is an iPhone user. "We're playing a role that we've often played, which is to be at the forefront of a debate."

Here are the shocking actual words of the SF action:

San Francisco Cell-Phone Radiation Ordinance -

CTIA’s ever quotable John Walls quickly replied, "We're disappointed that the Board of Supervisors chose to ignore the science in this case," He added that the law was based on "unfounded concern" and "could very likely confuse and mislead consumers." This was reminiscent of the industry’s actions in 1999 when it tried to pressure FCC to keep SAR data hidden in obscure parts of the Commission’s ever cluttered web site when Chairman Kennard wanted to follow the UK lead and make the numbers readily available. Instead, Chmn. Kennard followed my suggestion on how to implement the posting of SAR data and FCC placed clear SAR data on each model’s authorization grant.

Then, yesterday CTIA retaliated with
this announcement:

CTIA-The Wireless Association® Vice President of Public Affairs John Walls issued the following statement after the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved the cell phone labeling ordinance (File No. 100104):

“CTIA and the wireless industry are disappointed that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors has approved the so-called 'Cell Phone Right-to-Know' ordinance. Rather than inform, the ordinance will potentially mislead consumers with point of sale requirements suggesting that some phones are 'safer' than others based on radiofrequency (RF) emissions. In fact, all phones sold legally in the U.S. must comply with the Federal Communications Commission's safety standards for RF emissions. According to the FCC, all such compliant phones are safe phones as measured by these standards. The scientific evidence does not support point of sale requirements that would suggest some compliant phones are 'safer' than other compliant phones based on RF emissions.

“While we have enjoyed bringing our three day fall show to San Francisco five times in the last seven years, which has meant we’ve brought more than 68,000 exhibitors and attendees and had an economic impact of almost $80 million to the Bay Area economy, the Board of Supervisors’ action has led us to decide to relocate our show. We are disappointed to announce that the 2010 CTIA Enterprise and Applications show in October will be the last one we have in San Francisco for the foreseeable future. We have already been contacted by several other cities that are eager to work with us and understand the tremendous benefits that wireless technology and our show can provide their area.” (CTIA does not explain that large conventions are booked several years in advance and changing the cities after booking incurs large penalties. So it appears that the non-SF venues for the next few conventions must have been decided previously.)

I was particularly fascinated by Mr. Walls’ sentence, “The scientific evidence does not support point of sale requirements that would suggest some compliant phones are 'safer' than other compliant phones based on RF emissions.” Could he please explain how scientific data could deal with “point of sale requirements”. Yes, there is no hard data that “some compliant phones are 'safer' than other compliant phones based on RF emissions.”. But there is no hard data that all cell phone exposure from handsets is safe either!

Readers might wish to review my 11/2/09 entry on this topic and the more responsible position taken by CTIA’s French counterpart, AFOM. I assume that the same physics applies in France as in CTIA’s homeland? AFOM suggests practical ways to reduce exposure such as using a Bluetooth earpiece or using your phones in area with better reception/more “bars”. Indeed, CTIA’s French counterpart even says on its website

For nonfrancophones, AFSSET is the French counterpart of EPA and OSHA and DAS is the term for SAR. Thus my unofficial translation of the header is AFSSET suggests picking a cellphone with low SAR. Shocking!!!

CTIA, does this mean you will add France to San Francisco on your list of boycotted locations for future meetings? Will CTIA staffers be able to attend any ITU or GSMA or ETSI meetings in France? Will CTIA member companies allow their staffers to travel to France on company business? Vacation?

Since CTIA is so worried that point of sale information on SAR of cell phone models “would suggest some compliant phones are 'safer' than other compliant phones based on RF emissions”, could Mr. Walls explain why VZW clearly gives SAR data in its website advertising? Aren’t VZW customers or prospective customers vulnerable to the false implications of seeing this data? Should CTIA also boycott/expel VZW because of its outrageous behavior just to be consistent?

Wired’s coverage of this news ends with these words, “Oddly, iPhone users in San Francisco may be safe, given how difficult it is to actually use the device as a phone in the city proper.

Tekla Perry, a well known tech writer for IEEE Spectrum and a much better writer than your blogger, has written a blog piece on the SF decision describing how hard it is to get SAR information on cell phones at purchase time. Here is how she ends her essay:

The CTIA, the association that represents wireless manufacturers, is not happy about the San Francisco law, the first of its kind in the country. The CTIA says SAR information is irrelevant, and that no phones are safer than other phones. (I suppose CTIA members would rather compete on camera megapixels and apps and music capacity rather than radiation levels.) So it is going to make San Francisco pay—the CTIA is taking its annual trade show, held for the last seven years in San Francisco, elsewhere.

Wow. That’s like the cheese industry freaking out because they have to list fat grams on their labels.

But I can vote with my feet, too. The next time I buy a cell phone, I’ll be going to a retailer in San Francisco.


On 6/29/10 the
Washington Post also wrote about CTIA’s actions. Some quotes:

The last major study done by the U.S. cellphone industry was published in 2002. Citing privacy concerns, corporations have declined to release records of heavy cellphone use to match against incidence of brain tumors.

The issue of children and cellphones has not been widely studied, even as three out of four teenagers use a cellphone. ...

Last month, 13 nations in Europe and Asia released the results of a decade-long study on long-term use. Scientists debated the results, saying the study was flawed because it relied too much on the subjects' memories of how much they used their phones.

The report, funded largely by the biggest global cellphone trade group, said that there was no conclusive link between cellphone use and cancer but that there were "suggestions" that heavy use could increase the risk of glioma. NIH issued a statement after the report's release, emphasizing that the study showed no link.

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