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BIA Business Perspective: House bill could halt broadband expansion efforts in NH

BIA Business Perspective: House bill could halt broadband expansion efforts in NH

New Hampshire has made it a priority to expand access to reliable, high-speed broadband internet across the state, especially to underserved or unserved areas. High-quality broadband is vital to support the Granite State’s continued economic development, but a bill currently under review at the State House, House Bill 1644, could halt much of those efforts.

HB 1644 requires telecommunication antennas be placed at least 1,640 feet from residentially zoned areas, parks, playgrounds, hospitals, nursing homes, day care centers and schools. The bill also creates a self-reporting registry for anyone who believes they’re experiencing symptoms of radiation exposure.

A 1,640-foot a setback from the aforementioned locations could make it virtually impossible to install another telecommunication antenna in most areas of the state, including its urban areas. It would be almost as difficult to expand service within the suburbs.

The Business & Industry Association, New Hampshire's statewide chamber of commerce and leading business advocate, in its 2022 Public Policy Priorities, recognizes the critical role of telecommunications and high-speed internet in fostering a healthy, growing state economy. BIA supports efforts to expand private-sector telecommunications infrastructure throughout the state to improve access and reliability, supports fair policies that promote sustained investment and equal competition among all service providers, supports expansion of 5G and other radio frequency technologies including Wi-Fi, and opposes legislation restricting expansion.

HB 1644 follows the work of the New Hampshire Commission on the Health and Environmental Impacts of 5G and Wireless Technology, which, in 2020, produced a report alleging cellphone radiation, including 5G, poses a threat to human health and the environment. The World Health Organization and U.S. Food and Drug Administration do not support this claim, and this is noted in the commission’s minority report.

Most of the rhetoric behind this bill focuses on 5G, but HB 1644’s ambiguity is troubling. In using the term “telecommunications antennae,” the bill could restrict all radio frequency emitted by these transmitters, including large traditional cell towers, smaller, less intrusive distributed antenna systems and WiFi transmitters. There are tens of thousands of public WiFi transmitters mounted in public places throughout the state that are vital to our telecommunication system. Cell coverage remains spotty in far too many areas, let along high-speed wireless internet.

New Hampshire needs a robust telecommunication system with high-speed broadband if we hope to compete with other states for 21st century jobs. Some suggest people don’t need to watch movies while walking down the street, but broadband isn’t about personal entertainment. It’s about having reliable ability to conduct business operations, telehealth, remote learning, as well as online shopping and banking. 5G provides far greater speed and capacity than previous generations of wireless internet.

Some argue fiber optic cable can deliver the fastest, most reliable telecommunication infrastructure without the need for wireless radiofrequency. However, fiber is expensive, prohibitively so in efforts to deliver “last-mile” broadband access to rural areas with homes and businesses spaced out over miles. At estimates of up to $55,000 per mile, fiber optic isn’t cost-effective for internet service providers. Running fiber cable from a pole to a home or business also requires additional equipment with an estimated cost of $500 to $750 for each connecting location. Furthermore, fiber can’t connect to individual cellphones.

It’s not an either-or decision between fiber optic cable and wireless internet. Fiber optic is a backbone of the broadband system and wireless technology greatly expands its reach. Fiber optic to homes and businesses does little when you’re not in the home or business, which is increasingly the case as we conduct more of our lives online and remotely.

HB 1644 attempts to address concerns about radiofrequency’s effect on human health and the environment, yet there is not a defining, broadly accepted answer on whether it does, nor is there scientific consensus on potential health impacts on humans. Passing HB 1644 will result in profound negative impacts on New Hampshire’s economy. We think this issue deserves far more thoughtful study.

Rick Fabrizio is director of communications and public policy with the Business & Industry Association.

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