HARLINGEN — Consider them sentinels of the future, or at least bringers of smoother video streams.
Nine 5G transmission towers are being installed in the city, bringing some lucky cell phone customers the latest and fastest speeds as they cruise the web.
The poles resemble wooden telephone or power-type poles, but atop each of these is a silver node which will deliver faster mobile phone speeds.
City officials say the company which has applied for the permits, California-based Mobilitie LLC, is constructing the 5G towers but it is unclear which mobile phone provider will operate them.
Senate Bill 1004 that became effective on Sept. 1, 2017, allows companies to seek a permit and to install the 5G poles on city rights-of-way. “They are considered a utility just like AEP and Spectrum,” reads a statement issued by the city.
“They must get a permit from the city and we can’t charge them any more than $250,” the statement read. “As of right now, only one company, Mobilitie LLC, has applied for permits for nine locations.”
Calls and emails to Mobilitie were not returned.
But where some see progress, others see a threat.
An anonymous letter to the offices of the Valley Morning Star claims to be from city employees concerned about health risks from 5G transmissions.
“The City of Harlingen has permitted a private company to install a microwave radiation emitting units (5G poles) at 3 densely populated locations within the city,” the letter reads. “One location is just a few yards from an elementary school (Treasure Hills Elementary School) and the other is about 100 yards from the same elementary school.
“Sorry that we cannot disclose who we are. We still have jobs to protect. We will say this: We city workers are not inept. This idea was rejected but someone pushed it through and overrode our protests. We do not know why. We will call ourselves ‘Team: for the children.’”
City officials declined to address any potential health concerns linked to 5G transmissions, saying only that the permits were granted as they would be to any other utility operating in the city.
The rise of 5G transmission towers across the country has raised concerns, but there is little data at present to support the idea of adverse health effects on people.
“Few studies have examined cancer risk in children living close to cell phone base stations or radio or television transmitters,” the National Institutes of Health reports. “None of the studies that estimated exposures on an individual level found an increased risk of pediatric tumors.”
The National Toxicology Program, in another study, concluded there is clear evidence that male rats exposed to high levels of radio frequency radiation (RFR) like that used in 2G and 3G cell phones developed cancerous heart tumors, the NTP reported. “There was also some evidence of tumors in the brain and adrenal gland of exposed male rats.”
But these studies were done with radiation of very high dosages which were very close to the animals in the study. Such proximity and radiation levels would not be found with cell phone transmissions atop poles in city rights-of-way.
“The exposures used in the studies cannot be compared directly to the exposure that humans experience when using a cell phone,” said John Bucher, a NTP senior scientist, in a statement released with the study. “In our studies, rats and mice received radio frequency radiation across their whole bodies. By contrast, people are mostly exposed in specific local tissues close to where they hold the phone. In addition, the exposure levels and durations in our studies were greater than what people experience.”
Yet Bucher does think there is a connection between high radio frequencies and cancer in rats.
“We believe that the link between radio frequency radiation and tumors in male rats is real, and the external experts agreed,” he said.
Road to 5G
1G — The first analog cell phones enter the world. 1970-80.
2G — New features like SMS and voicemail come to mobile handsets. 1990-2004.
3G — Higher data transfer rates enable mobile web browsing, image sharing and GPS location-tracking. 2004-2010.
4G — Broadband delivers deep web functionality to smartphones. Current.
5G — Fifth-generation wireless technology is 10 times faster than 4G. Downloads will be quicker and network reliability enhanced. Super-connected autonomous cars, smart communities, immersive education — all will rely on 5G. Probably by 2020.
Harlingen 5G locations
100 S 13th St. — Complete
1401 Oklahoma St. — Complete
1718 Treasure Hills — Pole up w/node but no power
2007 Whitetail Dr. — Pole up but no node yet
2106 Treasure Hills Blvd. — Pole up w/node but no power
2200 Bell St. — Complete
3906 Hale Ave. — Pole up w/node but no power
405 Los Arroyos Court — Pole up w/node but no power
825 New Hampshire — Complete