Municipal Wireless Falters in Sebastopol, Calif.
Plans for a municipal wireless network in Sebastopol, California have been abandoned amid growing concern in the community over wi-fi as a public health danger.
Sebastopol had contracted with Sonic.net to provide wi-fi across the city, but the city council unanimously voted in late March to rescind the agreement. Many Sebastopol residents expressed fears about the health effects of wi-fi signals, prompting the city council's decision.
Sonic.net says the concerns are groundless.
"Based upon reading many university and government studies on the effects--or lack of effects--of higher powered mobile phone signals that are in a similar frequency range, I think the concerns have no merit," said Sonic.net CEO Dane Jasper.
"The city council has left the door open to further dialog on the topic at a later date," Jasper said. "Now that the more moderate portion of the populace has found its voice, I am presuming that they feel they have more support for a wi-fi network."
Agreeing with Jasper, Sebastopol City Councilman Larry Robinson said he hopes to continue negotiations at some point.
"I take seriously the fears of some of our citizens and respect their concerns, although I believe that their fears regarding wi-fi are misplaced," Robinson said. "I have seen no peer-reviewed scientific studies that indicate a health hazard.
"This August I will reintroduce a resolution approving a contract with Sonic.net to provide free wi-fi access in our downtown," Robinson continued. "If at some point in the future evidence emerges of a health hazard, we will certainly reconsider. Until then, free access for those who otherwise would not be able to afford it is my overriding interest."
Scholars Say No Threat
Policy analysts say the health risks associated with wi-fi are not an important consideration when crafting policy about municipal wi-fi systems.
"These risks don't exist," said Steven Titch, a policy analyst at the Reason Foundation. "Although [a study purporting to link health risks to wi-fi] received substantial play in the UK press, it was soon exposed for the junk science it was. Aside from that, no study has ever shown there is potential for harm from exposure to the radio frequencies that cellular phones and wi-fi Internet connections use."
David Kopel, director of research for the Independence Institute in Golden, Colorado, agreed. He said cities should keep in mind the difficulties in managing such systems efficiently and cost-effectively--especially as there are free-market alternatives.
"City governments have many important services to provide, such as police and fire departments," said Kopel. "The taxes they collect should be used for those sorts of things, instead of services [like municipal wi-fi] that businesses are getting better and better at providing."
Aleksandrs Karnick (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes from Indianapolis, Indiana.