5G consultation so Bermuda can make 'best decisions'
An increase in concerns and commentary about 5G broadband network technology spurred the Regulatory Authority of Bermuda to place a temporary moratorium on its deployment on the island.
Now the RA is encouraging the public to give them their thoughts on the suitability of 5G for Bermuda ahead of a final determination, which is expected to be made in the middle of February. The consultation period has been extended by two weeks to December 7.
Fifth Generation wireless technology has attracted debate among those keen to embrace faster data speeds, and those worried about alleged health impacts from its use of higher frequency microwaves than previous mobile networks.
Denton Williams, chief executive of the RA, took part in a question-and-answer session with The Royal Gazette, which covered the reasons for the consultation period and what it hoped to achieve through the process.
Q: Why have a consultation?
A: Last year we saw that globally there were concerns people had about the roll out of 5G. We anticipated that there might be some concerns domestically, so we put it into our work plan.
After that, we launched a licensing process for new telecom providers, and during that process several concerns specifically about 5G were raised. So we produced a temporary moratorium, which prohibits the deployment of 5G. There aren’t any 5G deployments in Bermuda at the moment.
We launched this consultation on October 23, which deals with this emergency moratorium and also deals with the consultation that we had originally planned.
We looked at the global concerns and locally. We’ve prohibited the deployment until we’ve given it an assessment, and allowed the public to give input into information we would need to make a decision about how to proceed.
Q: Is important to have that independent decision for Bermuda rather than just adopt something that another country has?
Bermuda needs to at least be mindful of and think about what it is doing. In other countries, whether it is a health issue or policy issue. We need to think what are we facing in terms of our challenges and opportunities so that we can make the best decisions for ourselves.
So we won’t just generically adopt things. We do reserve our rights – and the [Government] minister would as well – to change and add new regulations if necessary, or adopt something we feel is satisfactory.
Q:Are there misconceptions about the technology in Bermuda?
In some cases there is a legitimate lack of understanding on the technology, in other cases people understand the technology but don’t agree with it. But we’ll let the members of the public explain exactly what the concerns are, and we have also convened an international panel of advisers that are going to independently look at the responses that we receive, and look at the concerns and the responses to questions in our consultation document, and give a recommendation to the board of commissioners as to what they think might be the best way for us to proceed.
Q: How did you pick who was going to be on that board?
We were looking for a composition of local representation plus other large jurisdictions that have either navigated some of these issues already or are strong business partners for Bermuda as a jurisdiction – who we potentially have to be compatible with.
We did have difficulty raising local participants. We were trying to get more medical representation, and we did not get as many as we would like to have. We did reach out to some very high-level public health experts, and we did attempt to solicit participation.
Q: Why was the consultation deadline extended?
We saw in various media channels that there was a request to extend the consultation. The RA is sensitive to the concerns of the public, and we have given it some consideration and decided to give it to December 7.
Q: Have companies been asking for 5G?
We knew this was going to be an issue last year, because globally it was a challenge. We do know that the technology continues to evolve. One of the mandates of the RA is to be in a position to foster innovation and competition. Keeping that in mind and knowing that there are concerns, we felt we had to have some public input.
Q: If Bermuda wasn’t to implement 5G, what sort of implications would that have?
As technologies continue to evolve, eventually you will see 3G and 4G technology go away, and if Bermuda has not evolved in telecommunication standards it is likely we will become incompatible with other major business jurisdictions and that could have significant economic consequences for the country.
Q: Does the Government have a further say in whether 5G comes to Bermuda or not?
This is the RA’s decision to make the final decision on making the moratorium permanent or to remove it.
Q: How much feedback has there been?
Quite a bit. Some are responding via advocacy groups, and others are responding as individuals. We also have an [information gathering] event set up for November 19.
Mr Williams added that he wanted the public to refrain from harassing telecommunication technicians and workers. He said: "We did see that happen during the height of the Covid-19 lockdown. So while they were trying to provide services, members of the public were actually harassing workers they believed were secretly installing 5G antenna.“
He added: “We encourage people to refrain from any vandalism. We haven’t had any reports of that in Bermuda, but there have been at least 60 cases of it in the UK where people are vandalising telecommunication sites” even when they are not 5G sites.
Separately, a live public forum on 5G is being held this evening at 8pm. It has been organised by the Bermuda Advocates for Safe Technology and will be hosted by Eugene Dean, the chairman of environmental charity Greenrock. It will also be streamed live on www.bast.bm, the BAST Facebook page, the Channel 82 Facebook page and the Channel 82 YouTube Channel.
Details about the RA’s public consultation and how to make a submission can be found on the Authority’s website at www.ra.bm