Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Comments on Tom Wheeler's Presentation to the Federal Communications Commission

Below is a document e-mailed to this web site by an international organization based in Canada. Perhaps because of its international makeup, this organization avoided focus on how Mr. Wheeler's proposal would affect the U.S. federal budget, or impinge on the U.S. Constitution. The focus of their presentation is on the health hazard of what Mr. Wheeler proposed:

Here--in PDF form, sorry--is the text of what Mr. Wheeler told the FCC:

Here are the comments my e-friends requested. Readers may feel free to refer to this file in their comments to the FCC (today and tomorrow, please!), but are encouraged to create files of their own; the more the merrier, as long as they refer to the four documents mention.

File Number: 201607132554613030

Do we really want a 5G world? Appealing though the idea of limited 5G technology is—and with my fiction writing hat on, I’ve spent this week dreaming of a 5G “Handscreen” that would render digital snapshots or videos 3D for blind people, so in the opening scene a blind man is “seeing” his grandson’s face in “color” translated into temperature on a soft screen—we have to remember that, if anything can go wrong, it will.

Where I live, we have yet to get the concept of local, traditional energy grids right. A few years ago I lost a lucrative writing job because, when an agent asked for a write-up about a tornado, the sponsors were hoping for something about “the role of electronic technology in responding to the emergency.” Well, duh…electric and electronic technology played the role they play in every heavy snow, every thundershower, most wind and rain events, and a lot of events in the lives of birds and squirrels, in my part of the world: they broke down. People use phones, e-mail, and social media to find out where the center of damage is and whether their friends got safely out of it. At the center of damage, these days it may be possible for some useful devices to be plugged into a car battery, but nobody would count on that.

The rest of the time, the grid costs money that many people can hardly afford…and here I stand to testify that when my bills go up predictably in winter, and I count on being able to pay them within time to keep service from being shut off, and the company has other unexpected expenses and demands more money from me right now, what I’ve said to both the telephone and the electric company is, “So long, it’s been good to know you.” Nobody in my family has ever wanted to bring cable TV into my home. Somebody tried to bring in Internet service, once, and reported that it never stayed connected for ten minutes. So I have a cell phone with prepaid minutes for emergencies, and when I want to connect to the grid for anything else, I go into town. Sometimes in summer I walk halfway into town to raise a cell phone signal.

As a writer I live on a variable but mostly very low income. I might qualify for financial aid to bring at least a phone and electric lights back into my house. As long as I’m able to survive without those things, I prefer to save the financial aid for those who really need the gadgets to survive. But that’s beside my point here.

My point here is that traditional land-line telephones break down when people need them most. Electric lights fail people when people need them most. Dial-up Internet, fiber-optic Internet, Wi-Fi Internet, it’s all the same; the faster the Internet moves, the more people clutter it up, and just when you need to get something posted and get offline you’re looking at the little wheel spinning around for fifteen minutes, and just when you need to send an e-mail or receive one, your whole neighborhood is offline for three days.

That being the case, we can’t afford to fund any boondoggles that will increase the extent to which anybody depends on any new technology to do anything. We have yet to get the major bugs out of the technology we’ve got. When the electricity goes off for several days in winter, which happens here in some part of Scott County, Virginia, almost every year, everyone is inconvenienced, but life goes on…because we don’t invest so much in the electrical power grid that we can’t live without it. Important information is on paper. Heat comes from wood, coal, kerosene, and even without owning solar panels some of us are starting to get some of our favorite gadgets onto solar energy. And if all else fails, if somebody is dependent on a respirator or something similar, we load that person into a car and drive to wherever the electricity is still on.

We do not need “automatic cars” being controlled by “the cloud.” It’s not so much that that’s an open invitation to evildoers to hack into “the cloud” and smash cars into each other, although it would be one if it happened. It’s that, whenever people truly needed to get somewhere by car rather than by foot or bicycle, “the cloud” would stop functioning, the way it always does, and then where would we be?

Inventive minds will never stop dreaming. Real progress is made when individuals test projects that they and a few friends control, that they are able to use in ways that don’t harm other people or cost other people money. When those projects work, then they’ve reached the marketable stage, and everybody wants one—even though everybody who has any common sense will keep the older technology around to use when the new gadget breaks down. Small, safe, personal-size-and-speed vehicles that could be steered by GPS could be the perfect solution for people who don’t want to stop driving. “Cloud” information is an ideal way to disseminate the kind of commercial information, about what’s on sale on what day in what store, that’s unlikely to be used to do much harm. But a whole world where “Autonomous vehicles will be controlled in the cloud. Smart-city energy grids, transportation networks, and water systems will be controlled in the cloud. Immersive education and entertainment will come from the cloud”…how can Tom Wheeler not see that that’s not merely a boondoggle, but almost guaranteed to be an apocalypse?

Whenever we think about 5G technology, I believe we need to begin by specifying how any proposed use of 5G wireless cloud technology is going to be kept away from the people who don’t choose to buy into it. Of course that wouldn’t mean that friends and family would have to stop providing phone service to retired people who want to live alone, just for the young people’s peace of mind; that’s always gone on, and should always go on. But it does mean that, if somebody wants to be able to plug an address into his GPS and let “the cloud” drive his car to that address, other people need to be able to say, “I don’t want any remote-controlled cars approaching my home at 55 miles per hour, thank you”—and remove their address from the GPS system, altogether and forever, if they so choose.

When the federal government has considered “making something available to” every American, that has tended to mean forcing it on people whether they wanted it or not. We talk about guaranteeing children’s right to go to public schools—which is all well and good—but too many of us forget that, in order to secure their right to choose schools where they were actually able to learn over schools where they were being physically and emotionally abused, people actually had to fight; at least one child that I personally knew had to die. We’ve seen governments attacking people who want to stop burning up all the safely obtainable coal and oil, get off the grid, and use solar power in their own homes, because in some areas government has “married” private utility companies. We’re seeing claims that, even without having a fully nationalized medical care system, doctors and patients are being forced to “choose” procedures that both the doctors and the patients agree are wrong for them, ever since government “married” private insurance companies.

We need to be talking about keeping the federal government out of any wireless cloud system anybody is working to build. We need to be talking about the role of the federal government in shielding private homes, if people want to opt out of “the cloud,” such that nothing in those homes is visible from “the cloud”—so that all GPS can show about those private properties is a blank patch on the screen labelled “Keep Out.”

Why, you may ask, would people want to opt out of “the cloud”? Because it’s new, and we don’t yet know how safe or how dangerous it may be. Some people believe that wireless Internet transmission may harm people in some ways. We won’t know for sure whether that’s true, or whether some individuals may be at greater risk than others, for another fifty years, because not enough people will have been exposed to enough wireless Internet vibrations long enough to know that. We will never know—unless it turns out that wireless Internet transmission is extremely dangerous to everybody, and a whole generation of people die from something similar to X-ray-related cancer—unless some people are able to designate themselves as control groups.

In order to develop wireless technology in a safe, ethical, humane way, we need to ensure that, if some people’s homes are not fully WiFi-proofed by mountains and trees (as mine currently seems to be), those people and other people need the option of fully WiFi-proofing their homes. Then we need to be able to identify, if some rare form of cancer suddenly becomes an epidemic thirty years from now, whether the people developing that condition are heavy Internet users, occasional Internet users, part-time Internet users, or non-Internet-users. We need that information in case the wireless technology that develops turns out to have the kind of unforeseen consequences that radium and X-rays had.

As I write, I’m sitting in an Internet café. The café’s connections blinked only briefly yesterday; in a part of town that starts two blocks down the road from the café, all the lights were off for five hours…I didn’t even hear thunder during the brief rain shower. I’m plugged into WiFi, reading Tom Wheeler’s remarks courtesy of some e-friends in Canada. Obviously they’re not panicky about any exposure to the Internet at all, any more than I am. Obviously they believe, as I do, that limiting our exposure to the Internet may turn out to be a good idea for medical reasons.