Telus wants to expand wireless cellular coverage in North Cowichan.
The telecommunication company plans to provide wireless services to many rural and remote communities in the municipality for the first time, and increase the speed of the service for existing users in North Cowichan.
Council decided at its meeting on March 3 to send a letter to Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada in favour of increased wireless connectivity by any provider, and is supporting the application from Telus to provide increased wireless connectivity in North Cowichan with a grant from the federal Universal Broadband Fund, which supports high-speed internet projects across the country.
But council is making it clear in the letter that it has concerns about an upcoming report that is being prepared by the World Health Organization on the health effects of 5G wireless technology, that is expected to be released in 2022.
Fifth-generation wireless [5G] is the latest iteration of cellular technology, engineered to greatly increase the speed and responsiveness of wireless networks.
However, many believe that the new network generates radio frequency radiation that can lead to health problems.
In a letter to council, Brian Gregg, a land-use consultant representing Telus, said improving internet connectivity within communities, particularly those that are rural and remote, enables residents to engage in numerous aspects of the digital economy.
He said the internet has become an essential service and provides access for residents to numerous benefits, such as tele-health, distance learning, and telework.
“Today, reliable internet access has become a virtual requirement for commercial and industrial businesses, whether small or large, to operate and develop,” Gregg said.
“Access to reliable internet also supports social services within communities and enables valuable avenues to serve residents. The internet has made connecting key social service institutions with the residents who use those institutions much easier. Furthermore, this access, expedited through the [$1.75 billion] Universal Broadband Fund, will contribute to a multitude of government strategies that have become easiest to access via the internet.”
Gregg said the opportunity for North Cowichan to participate in the project, which would see high-speed internet increased to 50 megabits per second download speed and 10 megabits per second upload speed, would come at no cost to the community.
“Assuming we are successful in our application [which has a deadline of March 15], funds to build the network would be committed by Telus and the Government of Canada,” he said.
“This would include the building, operation and long-term maintenance of the infrastructure. This investment will ensure that the network can withstand the demand of new technologies which will be realized over future generations.”
Coun. Kate Marsh said she can’t support sending the letter with unanswered health questions, and pointed out the WHO study that is looking at the health risks from exposure to radio frequency ranges, including 5G.
“Even WHO is saying they don’t know what the health impacts are, and [the organization] is studying it,” she said.
“I’m advocating for further research into the possible long-term impacts of all aspects of mobile telecommunication before I can consider saying yes to this. I know this is an uphill battle, but I must vote my conscience.”
Coun. Christopher Justice said he doesn’t know if connecting council’s support for the project on the findings of the WHO study will accomplish anything, other than acknowledge council members’ lack of understanding of the technology.
“It won’t change anything,” he said.
Council voted to send the letter of support, with Marsh opposed.