When this nascent pro-business attitude ran into the county’s more traditional attitude of outraged and uninformed activism, well, it was no contest. Even the newest County Council member who pronounces himself the champion of business had to run and hide.
The issue is how the county will allow the deployment in residential neighborhoods of a new generation of wireless service, called 5G. The telecom industry makes some amazing claims about it being a grand step up from what we have now in the ability to carry more data more quickly, making things such as mobile video more efficient. It’s still too early to say for certain, but it’s being deployed around the country and around the world.
Council member Hans Riemer (D-At Large) has for years tried to push the image of the county as a progressive, tech-savvy place that could attract and nurture biotech, telecom and other start-ups and companies of whatever size looking to relocate.
The opposition to allowing 5G into Montgomery County has taken on the intensity of a holy war. A two-hour county council hearing in November attracted dozens of anti-5G speakers, contrasted with a handful of those who backed the proposal. Those with knowledge of science and engineering who told the council there was nothing harmful about 5G were swamped.
More recently in Bethesda, Roopesh Ojha, a NASA astrophysicist who also testified before the council, gave a presentation on 5G in which he attempted to explain the science behind characteristics of light on the spectrum, a.k.a. radiation, and how the implementation of 5G was not harmful to humans.
He was immediately harassed and harangued by the true believers in junk science with such vehemence that one had to be escorted out of the room. Others shouted citations of studies that he had shown were discredited. Incidents such as this are why he described the debate as asymmetrical, because it’s “difficult to match the devotion and energy of conspiracy theorists.” He dismissed these as junk and tried to prove it using facts, but the protesters wouldn’t hear of it.
Let’s take a couple of examples on the topic of dead birds. A couple of years ago, a website reported that hundreds of birds had died as a result of a 5G experiment. Another time, a man walked into the offices of a company that offered wireless service and said it caused a bird to fall dead out of the sky.
The first example occurred in 2018 in The Hague. It was debunked by, among others, the Audubon Society. And yet it persists.
The second example took place around Louisville, Ky. — in 1922. The wireless service in question was AM radio. Yes, hysteria about wireless is 100 years old.
In the book “Microphone Memoirs of the Horse and Buggy Days of Radio,” by Credo Fitch Harris about station WHAS, allegedly killing birds was only one of the fallouts. If there wasn’t enough rain or if there was too much rain, it was because of the radio. Others complained that the new radio station caused lightning to strike, affected the springs of mattresses, caused floorboards to creak and made children sick. Sound familiar?
Talk to scientists, and their conclusions are clear. Look at statistics, comparing the explosion of cellular devices to the level state of brain cancer cases. Look at the physics. Talk to medical professionals, as I did, who are planning 5G for their institutions.
The real evidence keeps piling up. The Food and Drug Administration in early February said it’s continually monitoring the situation and found “abundant evidence” to support the conclusion that “there is no consistent or credible scientific evidence of health problems” caused by cellphones. And on Feb. 21, Ofcom, the British government agency that regulates telecommunications, released results of tests of 5G at 16 sites in 10 cities and similarly found no health risk.
Rather than accept learned conclusions, a council committee allowed the mob to rule, and their colleagues are ready to do the same.
What will happen the next time, when anti-vaxxers demand the banning of vaccines or when climate-change deniers bring their “science” to the county executive and demand he kill programs to combat climate change?
Those companies the county is looking to attract and nurture do their due diligence. Technically oriented start-ups and others are not going to come to a county where superstitious mobs rule. They will head across the river, where Virginia jurisdictions have accepted today’s realities as Montgomery County, sadly, has not.