5G Masts – What is the real menace?
There is a wonderful section in an often quoted law case relating to the erection of a mobile telephony mast in Worcester where the Judge who was trying to access whether or not local objections to the masts should be upheld makes it plain that the environmentally minded applicants appeared to be feeling symptoms even before the mast was switched on.
Mobile masts have been through a number of studies in this country, Sweden and elsewhere and the general orthodoxy is that the non-ionising radiation they produce is not either going to fry you or otherwise cause you harm or indeed assist with a spread of miscellaneous viruses.
That is not to say that we do not need to be relatively careful. I am often reminded of a trial system relating to emergency service communication tested in the North West of England which brought about an enormous number (for the size of the trial) of people who said that they did not feel terribly well when using the new system. That system mysteriously operated at the same frequency as the human brain well you have to wonder don’t you!
With 5G there are two forms of exclusion zone in respect of emissions. One where technicians dealing with the equipment should not even go and one from which the public should be excluded. Arranging for these in practice should not be too difficult except perhaps where 5G masts are on the top of buildings. The problems, however, are known about and there have been a number of articles on the subject – we seem to know what we are about.
The industry (that is the wireless industry are bound, however, in anecdotal stories of problems) probably the ones that chill me the most are one from myself and one related to clients. One related to me is when a regulator back in the middle to late 80s, I visited what was then a GEC plant in St Albans. I was looking at microwave transmission and propagation – so called wireless cable TV. I was shown round the route to actually see the transmitters. The roof was littered with dead sparrows. I asked what that all meant to receive a reply that some lab technician had turned the power up a bit and a few things had happened. I have to say that did make me marginally nervous. The second incident relates to clients who were earlier doctors of the mobile phone which is colloquially known as the Motorola brick. I had two such clients who both died from a peculiar type of brain cancer in a relatively short distance from their right hand ears. Both were heavy users. One Chief Executive of a company that ran all sorts of business from telecoms through to oil exploration and the other one was a pioneering cable TV executive. There is no doubt that if there is going to be a problem with mobile phones it is much more likely to be associated with something that is held close to you and held close to a vulnerable part of you like your brain. Hence the continuing fashion for either dealing with things through Bluetooth attachments or wire attachments.
So, from a legal perspective no mast so far although there has no specific cases about 5G has been shown to present a health danger to the UK public and indeed there is a substantial Government report (the Stewart Report) that says that.
Now much as I have got the odd landlord client who would like to believe that 5G masts propagate Coronavirus that too seems to be extremely unlikely if not actually scientifically impossible.
It is not difficult to see why, however, 5G has become quite unpopular. The antics of the mast operators in the last couple of years have taken full advantage of the new provisions of the Electronic Communications Code to cut the ground and bargaining strength of all landlords.
There are essentially only two or three mast providers although those carry equipment for more than one operator. Provisions of the Code protect them from being assessed at rents which take into account the network of which particular site is part. Some operators have been using the advent of the new Code as reasons to try and go and lower rents that they have had negotiated in the past.
There are, however, few of these mast site providers in fact probably only really two or three interestingly, no one yet has remembered yet that Competition Law applies to land matters. It never used to years ago but it does now. I wonder how long it would be before a landlord of a mast site who is being forced to accept a rent much lower than it would like starts to argue competition matters and say that the market in respect of mast sites is so small that it is essentially “fixed” by a small number of participants in it.
I have no evidence whatsoever that there has been collusion between mast site providers in respect of keeping rents lower but they all do seem to act in the same direction at much the same time.
Competition Law therefore is something that landlords of mast sites particularly those who feel they are being offered low rental sums might utilise in their favour.
Ted Mercer, Partner