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Anti-5G saboteurs raise alarm across Europe

October 19, 2020, 10:18 AM UTC

Europe’s timely rollout of 5G is being threatened by the sabotage of new infrastructure and other expressions of mistrust, more than half the European Union’s countries warned Monday.

In a letter to the European Commission, 15 countries said they were witnessing “increasing activity of the anti-5G movement across the European Union,” with vandalism and disinformation that constitute “a threat to the economy of the affected member states [and] hinder also the ability for the European Union to meet its ambitious 5G goals.”

Every new generation of mobile broadband technology is met by opposition from people who claim, with little in the way of evidence, that the technology’s radio waves cause adverse health effects. 5G has been no different—and indeed this year the conspiracy theories have in some cases merged with those surrounding the novel coronavirus to create a new fantasy (debunked here) in which 5G helps COVID-19 spread by harming people’s immune systems.

This has led some people to set telecom masts on fire—there were at least 140 arson attacks in the first half of the year—and to threaten the engineers who deploy 5G infrastructure.

According to the EU countries that wrote to the Commission Monday, the solution lies in better communication with the public, and an urgent—as in before the end of 2020—effort to counter online disinformation about 5G.

“The increasing mistrust to the mobile radio equipment could have negative implications on the rollout of mobile network infrastructure (mast and antennas) as well as the 5G small-area wireless-access points infrastructure,” wrote the countries—Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, and Sweden.

“It is important to act now to inform the public of the benefits of 5G as enablers of the digital and green transformation of our businesses and society. As Member States, we think there is an urgent need for an EU communication strategy that provides reliable information to the EU citizens as well as awareness-raising campaigns regarding 5G and [electromagnetic fields].”

The Commission, the EU’s executive branch, should be receptive to this language—the 5G rollout is a centerpiece of its pandemic recovery plan, partly owing to the technology’s likely future role in health care and logistics, and partly because it is seen as essential to the bloc’s competitiveness in the coming years.

However, the countries also urged the Commission to promote “a broad and inclusive debate” about the latest generation of mobile broadband.

“The fears and worries of those people that are opposed to introducing 5G for reasons relating to EMF [electromagnetic field] concerns have to be taken seriously,” they wrote.

Earlier this month, a survey conducted for the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO) showed most Europeans are positive about the advent of 5G, but also most are unsure what to make of “5G myths” such as the technology’s negative impact on bees. The Ipsos survey suggested two-fifths of people wanted better government communication about 5G.