FCC Seeks Comments on New Human Exposure Safety Standards for 5G and Beyond Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields

The Federal Communications Commission is seeking comments on expanding non-ionizing radiofrequency radiation (RF) human exposure safety limits for new wireless telecommunications equipment that will emit RF frequencies above 6 Gigahertz (GHz), that do not penetrate the body beyond the skin-  FCC Docket 19-226 Human Exposure to Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields .  The new due date to submit comments has been extended from May 6 to June 17, 2020. This FCC Press Release to extend the deadline to June 17, 2020 for Comments on Human Exposure to EMF was filed May 15, 2020. The FCC public notice notes “We anticipate that interested parties will be able to use this time to develop complete, fully supported comments and reply comments, and acknowledge that parties can make ex parte presentations to introduce supplemental materials once the notice-and-reply comment cycle has closed.”

The FCC Proposed Rule FCC 19-226  will apply to frequencies from 6GHz to 300GHz to 3 TetraHertz (THz) for use in new commercial high frequency wireless technologies including 5G, 6G and beyond. In addition, comments are requested regarding several issues around wireless power transfer devices such as device time averaging. They also include requests for comments through the Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (IRFA) on human and environmental impacts via NEPA. Scroll past 5G Fund for Rural America(Docket FCC 20-32)  to continue to FCC Docket 19-226 Human Exposure to Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields

Update 10/10/20

Landmark Lawsuit Filed Against FCC for Failing to Reevaluate 5G and Wireless Safety

On Nov 27,, 2019, the FCC closed and “resolved” Docket 19-226 Human Exposure to Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields with out any substantial changes in the reevaluation of wireless radiation standards. A joint lawsuit was filed on July 30, 2020 by the Environmental Health Trust and the Children’s Health Defense for failure to protect human health and the environment by dismissing scientific evidence of harm from wireless radiation.  Go here to read the full story.

 5G Fund for Rural America – FCC 20-32 

5G Fund for Rural America: The FCC is also asking for comments on a 5G Fund for Rural America that close on June 25, 2020.  The proposal, FCC 20-32  states, “The Notice proposes to distribute up to $9 billion through the Universal Service Fund across rural America for 5G wireless broadband connectivity. The 5G Fund would help ensure that rural Americans enjoy the same benefits from our increasingly digital economy as their urban counterparts—more than 200 million of whom already have access to major providers’ 5G networks—and would include a special focus on deployments that support precision agriculture.”

To read more about the FCC 20-32 proposal go to https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/DOC-363946A1.pdf

To submit comments go to the following link and put in docket or proceeding number 20-32 and follow the same steps as below for docket FCC 19-226 https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/05/26/2020-09620/establishing-a-5g-fund-for-rural-america

Comments To FCC on 5G Fund for Rural America June 2020

Robert F Kennedy Jr and Dafna Tachover, of Children’s Health Defense,  filed as a comment the Court of Appeals Petition for Review of Order by the Federal Communications Commission. The Petition states,”The Commission has failed to promulgate rational, science-based radiofrequency emissions (“RF”) rules that adequately protect the public’s health and safety.https://ecfsapi.fcc.gov/file/1062563289999/CHD%20v.%20FCC%20-%20Petition%20for%20Review%20-%20For%20Public.pdf

Environmental Health Trust Comments to FCC on Effects to Wildlife https://ecfsapi.fcc.gov/file/10625123603026/2019-Letter-to-the-National-Park.pdf

Toni Stein provides the EPAIndex Of Publications On Biological Effects Of Electromagnetic Radiation(0-100 GHz)” https://ecfsapi.fcc.gov/file/106250108021765/Pages%20from%20US%20EPA%20Index%20of%20Publications%20on%20Biological%20Effects%20of%20EMR%209101FEXP-3.pdf

Susan Foster commissioned an IAFF study on firefighters experiencing electromagnetic sensitivity symptoms within a week of installation of first responder cell towers. This is a detailed eye opening story which she submitted to the FCC  regarding the Expansion of 5G to Rural Communities. https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/filing/1062696679001 

Elizabeth Kelly, International Scientists Appeal Comments to FCC https://ecfsapi.fcc.gov/file/1062629689393/FCC_NPRM_%20Docket_No._20-32_Comments.pdf

Cherokee Nation comments to FCC  https://ecfsapi.fcc.gov/file/10625000608264/FCC%20-%205G%20Expansion%20on%20Tribal%20Lands%20Comments%2006%2025%202020.pdf

Cindy Russell, MD Comments to FCC https://ecfsapi.fcc.gov/file/106251410420393/Letter%20to%20FCCLetter%20to%20FCC%20-%205G%20Rural%20America%20Docket%20%2020-32%20June%2025%2C%202020%20PDF%202.pdf

Human Exposure to Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields: FCC 19-226

Key Points Regarding FCC Guidelines to Expand Exposure Standards to Higher Frequencies 

Researchers and physicians are concerned that the new proposed FCC guidelines are flawed in their assumptions of safety for the following reasons:

  • New guidelines for higher frequencies will still only consider heat effects, not adverse biological effects demonstrated at non-thermal levels far below current safety guidelines, including reproductive, neurologic, immunologic and carcinogenic effects
  • The limits have been raised from 1,000 μW/cm2 for a 30 minute exposure to 4,000 μW/cm with unlimited exposure
  • There are no special considerations for pregnant women, children, the elderly, those with chronic illness or those who are electrosensitive
  • New guidelines do not consider known mechanisms of harm from non-ionizing radiation such as oxidation, calcium channel effects, resonance effects, radical pair mechanism (alteration of the spin sate of free radical)
  • There are scientific concerns with regards to injury to the skin and eyes with regards to higher frequencies. There is also evidence that metabolic dysregulation can occur through skin signaling
  • There is a recognized absence of independent safety testing in higher Gigahertz and Tetrahertz frequency radiation
  • Studies are typically performed on one frequency, not the mix of frequencies we will be exposed to, in addition to other toxic stressors
  • Averaging radiation makes it appear that levels and exposure are very low, however, peak levels of radiation as well as modulation (pulsation) are known to be more harmful to biological and cellular processes
  • Environmental concerns have been dismissed for the same reasons stated above

Requested submissions can be statements, letters and/or peer reviewed scientific research articles which document evidence of biological effects from non ionizing electromagnetic radiation. It is best to include not only the title, publication, author and link of the article but also the full article or at least the abstract. If you do include lists you may state, “Lists are hereby incorporated as reference”.

FCC Comments on 19-226 by Timothy Schoechle, PhD

Timothy Schoechle, PhD, Senior Research Fellow, National Institute for Science, Law and Public Policy submitted  pointed comments to the FCC: See below:

Comment 1—Exposure limits and Weak field (non-thermal) effects

The Commission’s present limits for non-ionizing RFR are based on thermal (i.e., heating) effects that relate to emission power density and are expressed in measures such as specific absorption rate (SAR) and maximum permissible exposure (MPE). The underlying assumption is that the risk to human beings posed by non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation is the heating of tissue analogous to what occurs in a microwave oven. This assumption is fundamental to this entire rulemaking and inquiry, but is now in question. “However, over the last 20 years the evidence has become extremely strong that weaker EMF over the whole range for frequencies from static through millimeter waves can modify biological processes” (Barnes and Greenebaum, 2020, p. 1)….

Comment 2—Extension of rules to above 6 GHz range

The assumption that the exposure limits that have been applied below 6 GHz could also apply to higher frequency ranges is without scientific basis or experimental evidence. The same issues described above in Comment 1 apply above 6 GHz—i.e., biological effects of (non-thermal) weak fields are not adequately dealt with in the existing exposure guidelines based only on thermal effects of RFR.

There is now solid experimental evidence and supporting theory showing that weak fields, especially but not exclusively at low frequencies, can modify reactive free radical concentrations and that changes in radical concentration and that of other signaling molecules, such as hydrogen peroxide and calcium, can modify biological processes [Batchelor et al., 1993; Bingham, 1996; Timmel et al., 1998; Woodward et al., 2001; De Iuliis et al., 2009; Castello et al., 2014; Li and Heroux, 2014; Usselman et al., 2014; Barnes and Greenebaum, 2015]. Static and low‐frequency magnetic fields have shown both acceleration and inhibition of cancer cell growth rates in the culture [Bingham, 1996; De Iuliis et al., 2009; Castello et al., 2014; Li and Heroux, 2014; Gurhan et al., 2020]. Both the acceleration and inhibition of growth rates of planarian [Van Huizen et al., 2019] have been demonstrated with static magnetic fields in the range from 0.5 to 600 μT (Barnes and Greenebaum, 2020, p. 1-2).”…

Comment 3—Assumptions about localized exposure limits

Here again, the assumptions about localized exposure limits implicit in the current limits below 6 GHz (i.e., that heating is the only or primary risk of RFR) and its proposed extension above 6 GHz is without scientific basis or experimental evidence, and lacks validity. The same issues described in Comment 1 apply above 6 GHz—i.e., biological effects of (non-thermal) weak fields are not adequately dealt with in the existing rules based only on thermal effects of RFR.

For example, the removal of minimum evaluation distance (FCC, 2019, paragraph 73, page 36) seems particularly arbitrary and without scientific basis or experimental justification…

Comment 4—Assumptions about exposure averaging

What may make sense with conventional SAR/MPE thermal exposure limits may not apply at all to weak field (non-thermal) effects resulting from entirely different biological mechanisms. Average or cumulative exposure energy may have little or no meaning, while other factors such as signal frequency, duration, repetition, modulation, time delay, or feedback can be important. Complex multiple feedback mechanisms operate in cellular biological systems.

“These multiple feedback loops lead to a wide variety of responses including oscillations, bi- stability, and system stabilization. The multiple feedback loops often make it hard to separate cause and effect. For example, when we exercise, the metabolic rate is increased, which in turn increases the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS), such as O2 and H2O2. The increased concentration of these molecules signals the generation of antioxidants that in normal circumstances return the concentration levels back to their normal resting values (Barnes and Kandala, 2018).”

Thus, exposure level and duration can become more important than average energy absorption and periodic recovery from oxidative stress can be important to re-stabilization of cellular metabolism. “Increased emphasis on long‐term exposures may require refining the concept of dose to more flexibly combine exposure time and field intensity or energy absorbed” (Barnes and Greenebaum, 2020, p 4). Also, averaging masks peak power, modulation, and the role of intervals between doses.

Comment 5—Assumptions about SAR-based exemption and MPE-exemption

The SAR-based exemption (paragraph 42, page 22) and MPE-based exemption (paragraph 48, page 25) suffer from the same basic flaw as was discussed in Comment 1 (i.e., that they assume that only thermal effects are important and do not take into account weak-field non-thermal effects). Both exemptions are inappropriate because they do not consider weak field (non- thermal) effects.

In regard to the SAR-based exemption, the footnotes in paragraph 42 that should appear at the bottom of page 23 are missing (i.e., footnotes 126–130 are missing). This may have to do with an editorial formatting error associated with the table 1 pasted in on page 23. The missing footnotes appear to relate to effective radiated power (ERP) and time averaging. In any case, the exemption is inappropriate because it does not consider weak field effects.

Comment 6—Assumptions about “inconsistent” experimental results

The recurring theme described in the 19-126 document regarding RFR health studies and expert opinions is “no harm found”. In part this non-finding finding is attributed because the studies show inconsistent results, weak harms, or none. However, experimental research results that superficially appear to be anomalous, inconsistent, or non-replicable, may actually reflect the masking, obscuring, or confusing of the complexity of the cellular or metabolic processes involved, while still indicating the presence of biological effects. In other words, positive effects may be balancing out negative effects—resulting in net zero effects—but this does not mean zero effects—and there may actually be a lot of activity at the cellular level. Such activity may have health consequences. In addition, the apparent experimental variability/inconsistency may simply be a demonstration of the limitations of the thermal paradigm, and the lack of consideration of critical variables such as pulsation, modulation, frequency, time delay, etc,. which evidence has shown to be in play.

The NTP study

Such effects and their mechanisms need to be understood in order to predict behavior and conditions in order to establish meaningful and effective exposure limits in regard to weak fields. But, typically these results tend to be dismissed as inconsistent, weak or no harm, unreliable, or not replicable. For example, such is the tone of the ICNIRP evaluation of the NTP study cited by the 19-226 document (FCC, 2019, footnote 34, page 9).

ICNIRP discussing both the NTP Animal Studies and the Ramazzini Study concluded that “these studies do not provide a reliable basis for revising the existing radiofrequency exposure guidelines” and noted various inconsistencies, limitations, and further need to review the application of animal studies to human carcinogenicity research that affect the usefulness of the studies in setting exposure guidelines.

However, the key point being missed here by ICNIRP is that there are effects, although not yet predictable. The important issue is that there are effects that are not fully understood and that they could affect public health and safety. We need to know why—could they be a “time bomb”? Until we understand what is actually happening, a big experiment is being conducted—with the public as the guinea pig. In regard to the NTP and Ramazzini studies,…

Another view of the NTP study

An evaluation of several recent animal studies (including the NTP study) of RFR oncogenicity was conducted by the IIT Research Institute5. The evaluation found a mixture of negative, but also of positive effects across the studies (McCormick, 2019). Most importantly, the evaluation showed biological activity. In other words, buried in “inconsistent” results was clear evidence that weak field RFR is biologically active, and under some yet-to-be-understood conditions can have carcinogenic and/or other health effects…

“By setting exposure limits of any kind, and effectively legitimating the further proliferation of wireless devices and technologies—thus making universal public exposure to cell site radiation involuntary—and essentially mandatory—the FCC is undertaking a prodigious responsibility for potential future negative consequences.” Dr. Schoechle…

Comment 7—Problematic Reliance on “opinions” from industry-biased bodies like ICNIRP.

Due to the high financial stakes, the market power of industry leaders and political influences can bear on regulatory processes. The FCC relies on and refers to IEEE and ICNIRP. The IEEE membership is highly invested in wireless technology development. ICNIRP is a self appointed group with deep ties to the industries dependent on wireless technology and does not disclose its funding sources. There is a need for an independent and objective scientific basis for public policy and it is not likely to come from these organizations….

Comment 9—Wireless power transfer (WPT)

Generally speaking, WPT can be defined as supplying power to devices by means of electromagnetic fields rather than through metal wires. This definition is insufficient to define industries and safety limits. For example, WPT can be either near-field or far-field (including directed beam), and either persistent or transient. WPT uses are highly application-specific and they present different exposure limit challenges. Setting limits on RFR from WPT is not a straightforward matter and will certainly require more study and input from a variety of industries and consumers. Limits will inevitably be highly application-specific.

As has been noted above, there is a considerable body of research showing that magnetic and electromagnetic fields, both static and of all frequencies, have biological effects. To evaluate

ET Docket No. 19-226 Timothy Schoechle PhD Page 12 of 19

any related health risks, it is necessary to have biological or biomedical, as well as engineering expertise involved. This has not been adequately taken into account by regulators or industry standards.

Before any emission exposure limits can be set for WPT, the biological effects of weak field non-thermal biological effects must be better understood.” Dr.Timothey Schoechle

Comments Are Now Due June 17, 2020

The Office of Engineering and Technology has extended the deadline for comments to June 17, 2020. Contact Martin.Doczkat@fcc.gov for questions.  https://www.fcc.gov/document/oet-extends-deadlines-rf-exposure-safety-standards-nprm

Proposed Rule FCC 19-226 Human Exposure to Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields

The full report of the Proposed Rule of FCC 19-226 Human Exposure to Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields is here  https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2020-04-06/pdf/2020-06966.pdf

How to Comment on FCC Proceedings

To Register comments for Human Exposure to Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields, Docket No. 19–226, go to   https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/filings

  • Fill out first tab –PROCEEDINGS– insert the docket number only- 19-226(it will refer to “Targeted changes to the Commission’s rules regarding Human Exposure to Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields\
  • Fill in the next box NAME OF FILERwith your name and click enteror it will erase the name
  • Fill in PRIMARY CONTACT EMAILContact Email if you want to receive email confirmation
  • Fill in TYPE OF FILING– drop down menu- click on COMMENT
  • Fill in required fields of the ADDRESS
  • At the bottom you can drag or place documents, Powerpoint presentations, PDF’s, etc in the box that says “Upload Documents”
  • Once this is done you will see the uploaded files and there will be a box to the right for description. You can put “comments”, “letter” or if you have a list of research only you can state “Links hereby incorporated by reference” 
  • Click on the small box that says Email Confirmationif you wish to receive an email.
  • Click on Continue to Review Screen and check the information. You can go back to correct if needed.
  • Click on the SUBMIT button at the bottom to complete the comment filing when you are done
  • Copy the CONFIRMATION NUMBERat the top of the screen so you can check and make sure it was submitted.

NOTE: The information you submit is not private and will be shared on the website.

NOTE:  The FCC will upload comments in 1 to 2 days

To check to make sure your comments were filed go to the same page, https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/filings and at the top press CHECK FILING STATUS and enter your confirmation number

To look at all the filings for this docket go to the same page ,https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/filings , and press FILINGS AND PROCEEDINGS SEARCH, then enter the docket number 19-226 ( or other docket number you may be interested in)


To request materials in accessible formats for people with disabilities (braille, large print, electronic files, audio format), send an email to fcc504@fcc.govor call the Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau at 202–418–0530 (voice), 202– 418–0432 (tty


Martin Doczkat, email: martin.doczkat@ fcc.gov of the Office of Engineering and Technology Electromagnetic Compatibility Division; the Commission’s RF Safety Program, rfsafety@fcc.gov; or call the Office of Engineering and Technology at (202) 418–2470.

Human Exposure to Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields. Federal Communications CommissionFederal Register Vol 85, Proposed Rules April 6, 2020.  Docket No. 19–226. https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2020-04-06/pdf/2020-06966.pdf

Excerpts from FCC Document 19-226

“Although the radio spectrum is managed up to 3,000 GHz (3 THz), the Commission’s exposure limits are currently specified only up to 100 GHz. The Commission is unaware of any reason the limits should be different above 100 GHz. As frequency increases up to 3,000 GHz (3 THz), body penetration is reduced and ultimately approaches zero. Accordingly, there is no reason to expect that thermal effects will effectively change at the increasingly higher frequencies. Accordingly, the Commission proposes to extend the same constant exposure limits that presently apply from 6 GHz to 100 GHz up to an upper frequency of 3,000 GHz (3 THz), which is considered to be the upper bound of existing radiofrequency bands.”

Proposed Limit of 4mW/cm2from 6GHz to 3THz.

“Because portable devices are being developed for operation at higher frequencies for future 5G services, the Commission proposes a localized exposure limit above 6 GHz of 4 mW/cm2 averaged over 1 cm2 for the general population, applicable up to the upper frequency boundary of 3 THz… The Commission notes that both the ICNIRP guidelines and the IEEE standards specify a spatial maximum power density of 20 times the whole-body MPE limit (e.g., between 3 and 10 GHz), generally averaged over 1 cm2…The Commission proposes a localized exposure limit above 6 GHz for occupational settings of 20 mW/cm2 averaged over 1 cm2, which is consistent with the typical ratio of 5:1 for the occupational limits relative to the general population limits. The Commission tentatively concludes not to adopt an extremity limit at this time…”

“Based on planar models, this standard suggests that a power density of 4 mW/cm2 just above 6 GHz is consistent with the Commission’s 1-gram SAR limit of 1.6 W/kg at 6 GHz. Also, the thermal perception threshold at frequencies approaching 100 GHz for large areas of exposure is indicated at about 4 mW/ cm2. Maintaining 4 mW/cm2 across the entire frequency range of 6 GHz to 3 THz will avoid any potential discontinuity between SAR and power density limits at 6 GHz, while also preventing the possibility of perception of warmth at higher millimeter-wave frequencies.”

Time-averaging Principles

“The Commission seeks comment on the range and type of parameters that should be considered to apply the proposed time-averaging principles.”

“With respect to the appropriate time-averaging period, the Commission notes two references for specifying time- averaging limits: (1) The ICNIRP standard that provides for averaging over 6 minutes at 10 GHz, and reduces to 10 seconds at 300 GHz on a complex basis; and (2) the IEEE standard that provides for an averaging time of 25 minutes at 6 GHz, dropping to 10 seconds at 300 GHz. However, since the Commission does not limit temporal- peak SAR or power density, all of the energy available in a time-averaging period could be deposited in an instant, resulting in a well-defined temperature rise, yet still be compliant with the rules. Thus, using the extended time- averaging periods of 6 or 30 minutes as set forth in the Commission’s rules in other contexts, or either of the alternative time windows specified by ICNIRP and IEEE, could allow for inappropriate temperature rises in extreme cases when intense exposure occurs for only a brief period.”

Wireless Power Transfer Devices

“Finally, the Commission seeks input on the following issues: Under what category of spectrum use should the Commission consider wireless power transfer.”

“The Commission seeks comment on a suitable definition and operating parameters for wireless power transfer devices that provide charging of receiving units located at a distance from the power transfer unit (i.e., 50 cm or greater), with future developments intended at distances suitable for room- size operation, and while the RU is in motion.”

“On specifying the conditions and methods for averaging the RF exposure, in both time and area, during evaluation for compliance with the RF exposure limits in the rules; on addressing new RF exposure issues raised by wireless power transfer (WPT) devices; and on the definition of a WPT device.”

Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (IRFA)

“As required by the Regulatory Flexibility Act of 1980 (RFA), the Commission prepared an Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (IRFA) of the possible significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities by the policies and rules proposed in the  Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). The Commission requests written public comment on the IRFA, which is contained in Appendix C to the NPRM. Comments must be identified as responses to the IRFA and must be filed by the deadline for comments provided in this NPRM.”

“In the IRFA, the Commission noted that the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) requires agencies of the Federal Government to evaluate the effects of their actions on the quality of the human environment. To meet its responsibilities under NEPA, the Commission has adopted requirements for evaluating the environmental impact of its actions. One of several environmental factors addressed by these requirements is human exposure to radiofrequency (RF) energy emitted by FCC-regulated transmitters, facilities, and devices.”

  1. The NPRM proposes to amend Parts 1, 2, and 18 of its rules relating to the compliance of FCC-regulated transmitters, facilities, and devices with the guidelines for human exposure to radiofrequency (RF) energy. Specifically, the Commission is proposing to make certain revisions in its rules that it believes will result in more efficient, practical and consistent application of its RF exposure compliance procedures. The NPRM seeks to develop a record that will enable the Commission to meet the challenges presented by evolving technological advances not resolved in the previous RF exposure proceedings.

Issues with the FCC and Submissions

FCC: Another Captured Agency

The FCC has long been a “captured agency”, as detailed by Norm Alster in his Harvard Ethics paper of the same name. He states the FCC is “essentially controlled by the industries they are supposed to regulate .” (9) He notes that the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) and the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) are among Washington’s top lobbying spender. In all, CTIA, Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile USA, and Sprint spent roughly $45 million lobbying in 2013 with an annual spending bill of about $800 million for the communications and electronics sector in 2013-2014.  According to Alster’s report, a former executive with CTIA boasted that CTIA meets with FCC officials about “500 times a year.”

Norm Alster notes, ” Over the years the FCC has granted the wireless industry pretty much what it has wanted….More broadly , the FCC has again and again echoed the lobbying points of major technology interests. ” With unchecked industry influence there has been consolidation of cable and cellular telecommunications corporations. Simultaneously public safety, public health, privacy, security and consumer affordability have been overlooked.  The revolving doors of industry executives fill the top spots at the FCC to help grease the political wheels. Well documented facts and figures back up his writing.

Captured Agency  How the Federal Communications Commission is Dominated by the Industries it Presumably Regulates , by Norm Alster Harvard  University Journalism Fellow in Edmond J Safra Center for Ethics

BOT Artificial Intelligence Overpowers Public Comment and Democracy

Civic engagement is the foundation of a democratic government  “of the people, by the people and for the people”, as Lincoln stated in the Gettysburg Address, to honor soldiers who sacrificed their lives for this country.  Most people do not write letters to express their opinion about a government issue. You may have heard that one letter sent to a public official is like 20, 000 similar opinion letters that were never sent. It may not be that high, or it could be higher,  but letters indicate that person cares about a particular issue, knows about the issue and may be affected by it. Officials consider letters to be important in serving their constituents.

FCC: Got BOTs to Stop Net Neutrality?

What happens when public comment is allowed to be from both humans and autonomous software bots, programed and introduced into computer systems by hackers to provide focused messages that are often difficult to identify as fake?  This happens around the world now in various forms but the FCC had millions of spambots  showing up on its comments section on Net Neutrality in 2017.  Firms hired by industry, Broadband for America, created bot comments to support the repeal of net neutrality and then submitted these using  fake and stolen identities, even those of deceased voters. An article in Hackernoon described how the bots were discovered using natural language processing techniques. Their research revealed at least 1.2 million fake spambots that looked like individual grassroots submissions, however, they estimate that about  99% of the 22 million comments came from fake AI messages. These comments were not removed and allowed a shift in the outcome of their decision.

Jinyan Zhang, a researcher at Harvard’s Data Privacy Lab, wrote a eye opening article, The Real Threat of Fake Voices in a Time of Crisis,  in Tech Crunch, describing bot interference in democracy. He cites a 2019 study in Tech Science  that tested the vulnerability of a different government agency, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The researchers inserted over 1,000 deepfake comments into the website as public comment, then removed them. They then asked human subjects to discern if the AI bot generated comments were real or fake, and found that they could not tell them apart. The researchers conclude, “Federal public comment websites currently are unable to detect Deepfake Text once submitted, but technological reforms (e.g., CAPTCHAs) can be implemented to help prevent massive numbers of submissions by bots”.

Covid and Deregulation of EPA and Education Rules

Zang ends with this, “While COVID-19 has disrupted many parts of American society, it hasn’t stopped federal agencies under the Trump administration from continuing to propose new deregulatory rules that can have long-lasting legacies that will be felt long after the current pandemic has ended. For example, on March 18, 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new rules about limiting which research studies can be used to support EPA regulations, which have received over 610,000 comments as of April 6, 2020. On April 2, 2020, the Department of Education proposed new rules for permanently relaxing regulations for online education and distance learning.”

FCC Reopens Net Neutrality Docket after Court Hearing

On a somewhat positive note, a DC court ruled in 2020 that the FCC needed allow for more public input into the Net Neutrality ruling and reconsider 3 issues. An article in Public Knowledge notes these are “the effect of broadband deregulation on access to utility poles by competitive ISPs; its effect on the Lifeline program, which makes broadband more affordable to low-income individuals; and the effect of deregulation on public safety (e.g., fire departments who count on mobile broadband”.  Public comments were reopened on February 19, 2020.