FCC Likely to Revisit RF Emissions Safety Rules

Wireless Week is reporting that the FCC may open an inquiry into its RF emissions safety standards.

WW reports that Chairman Julius Genachowski is circulating a draft inquiry among the Commissioners that may (and is likely to be) voted on by the full Commission to require a in-depth review of the FCC’s existing environmental RF rules. Those rules are found at 47 C.F.R. § 1.1307 et seq., and discussed in terms approaching plain English in the Commission’s widely-used publication, “Local Government Official’s Guide to Transmitting Antenna RF Emission Safety: Rules, Procedures, and Practical Guidance” (which I co-authored and co-edited).

If the Commission takes over the reins on this hot potato subject, it’s my opinion that the Commission is very unlikely to change the existing rules regarding cell towers, but it make take a closer look at the rules regarding Specific Absorption Rate (“SAR”) which govern cell phone handsets.

Should the Commission proceed forward, I would expect the review process to take upwards of a year to complete.  During this period, it’s very likely that segments of the public will call on local governments to halt cell siting reviews and permitting pending the outcome of the FCC’s review.  The simple answer is that unless the FCC directs state and local governments to halt siting reviews (somewhere around a 0.00000% chance, in my view), the usual local processing of wireless site permits should continue unchanged.

Remember that under Section 704 of the Telecom Act, local governments are permitted to determine planned compliance with the existing FCC rules.  Section 6409(a) of the Middle Class Tax Relief Act would suggest that the authority in Section 704 is only applicable to emissions safety reviews of new wireless sites, and perhaps not applicable to “collocations” at “eligible facilities” (whatever those terms mean as they are not defined by Congress).

Finally, I expect that if the Commission moves forward with a review of RF emissions safety, it’s quite likely that the wireless industry—freshly emboldened by its facial win with Section 6409(a)—will use the inquiry as a means to promote their notion that no RF safety reviews should be conducted or considered by state and local governments.

Stay tuned…this may well get interesting.

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