No concern about mobile phone hazards in telecom policy

Maswood Alam Khan from Maryland, USA

Glued to their cell phones the way my daughter Miss Cutie and your son Master Smarty are chatting the whole night away, God forbid, if Professor Henry Lai’s prophecy on DNA’s mutation as an effect of long-term exposure to microwave radiation finally proves true with cent per cent validation, let us say, after 20 years, Bangladesh, I can vouch for any bet, may turn out to be the biggest laboratory or the largest hospital in the world full of cell phone sick patients, most afflicted by incurable cancer.

A few weeks back we came to learn from the Prime Minisiter’s Press Secretary that based on recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Telecommunication Ministry in April last year, the Bangladesh cabinet, of late, approved a draft telecom policy that would allow individuals and companies to run multiple telecom businesses and help stop illegal Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) business. The Press Secretary further said: “The move will open up legal VoIP operations, which would increase government revenues from the telecom sector.” That’s a good piece of news, indeed, as there are now just four companies providing VoIP services in the country and further opening up of VoIP will obviously stop monopoly and illegal business.

But, it seems people are not always apprised of a public policy in its proper perspective through the print media, as had been evident when just a few days after the press secretary’s press briefing on the approval of telecom policy, four mobile phone operators in a press briefing of their own had called for revising the draft telecom policy claiming that the new policy would threaten their businesses. Their reason for that relates to the provisions in the draft policy for sharing 5.5 per cent of the their profits with the government in addition to 1.5 per cent profits towards social obligation. Plus, the policy proposes TK 10 million for license renewal, TK 100 thousand for license application and TK 50 million for annual license fees. And on top of that, the licenses have from now on to be renewed every 15 years.

From the press conference of the mobile phone operators held on February 08 at Hotel Sonargaon in Dhaka, we have come to learn from the mouths of chiefs of four prestigious operators, viz GrameenPhone, Banglalink, Citycell and Robi, that the whole telecom industry would face a serious crisis if the new draft policy is implemented. In unison, the heads of cell phone operators said: “The new policy, if implemented, would cost them around TK 140 billion for renewing their licenses and securing spectrum the cost of which would ultimately burden the subscribers.”

The result of the new policy, as was envisioned by the mobile phone operators, would be: None of the operators would reach even break-even in their business; they won’t be able to invest in technological improvement through research & development (R&D). And the private telecom sector that has created thousands of employment opportunities will ultimately turn into a loss-making sector.

Interestingly, representatives of two other operators—Airtel and Telelink—were not available in the press conference as some in the press conference quite blatantly pointed out those two operators were fortunate and had no worry about additional license fees at this moment since their operation period did not exceed 15 years.

Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) should have an ear to the ground. The Commission should not do anything that may favor two companies and disfavor the rest four, destroying a level field of competition. BTRC must also make sure that their decision did not put an extra burden on the poor of Bangladesh who have already been dependent on mobile phones.

We would have been in the dark about the exorbitance of license fees and the probable burden the subscribers were about to shoulder, had the four operators not convened the press conference.

We are still in the dark about many other features of the policy, especially those features that should tell about hazards of cell phones, which neither the operators would speak about freely nor the policy-makers would feel encouraged to broach publicly.

There has not been any analysis of the draft telecom policy we have heard of in any television talk-show or in any meeting of our think tankers or in any recent publications, leaving our poor countrymen ignorant about the short- and long-term effects of the telecom policy on their life.

However, only a lucky few, who have internet access, could somehow visit the ornamental website (http://www.btrc.gov.bd) of BTRC and peek at some of their activities.

Yes, the draft telecom policy is there under a very long title: “Draft Regulatory and Licensing Guidelines for Issuing Renewal License to Existing Mobile Licenses for Establishing, Operating and Maintaining GSM/CDMA Cellular Mobile Telecommunication Services in Bangladesh”. But the policy has been published only in English, denying the poor and the meagerly educated phone subscribers the right of access to a very important piece of information.

While the International Long Distance Telecommunication Services (ILDTS) Policy 2010, which has no direct affect on the interest of mass people, was uploaded in the BTRC website in simple Bangla, the telecom policy on regulatory guidelines, which is directly linked to the interest of millions of cell phone subscribers, has been flaunted in the same website in tricky English.

In the 60-page and 21,000-word tome of the “Draft Regulatory and Licensing Guidelines”, the policy-makers were kind enough to spare 17 words in a subordinate sentence, prefixed by an adverb “also”, advising “also to ensure proper safety for health hazard issues nearer to their locations of installations”—a matter-of-fact sentence, predicated by a more generous sentence of 78 words, cursorily suggesting environment-friendly equipment like renewable energy etc., under a subtitle “Health and Environment Concern” that got a space in an ending clause, Clause Number 42, in a huge crowd of 46 clauses in the tome.

The degree of the telecom policy makers’ concern about the cell phone hazards to public health and its impact on our environment is understandable from the tone, tenor and volume of words on the concerned subjects invested in the regulatory guidelines of the wireless telephony in our country.

Nowhere in the tome can one find what specifically the mobile phone operators are required to do to ensure safety of public health and to guarantee social harmony in the light of hundreds of scientific publications that grimly have continuously been warning both the cell phone operators and users against their flagrant applications and careless uses of the modern wireless technology. Nowhere else in the report can one find the slightest semblance of a modicum of concerns many of us have long been expressing in the wake of acute health hazards and uncontrollable social problems due to unbridled use of mobile phones, especially by our adolescents.

“Mashallah”, (By the grace of the Almighty), each of 68 million and 645 thousand Bangladeshis, constituting more than 50 per cent of our total population, has one little and cute gismo called mobile phone. Everybody is happy with this new creature comfort: the rich and the poor, the young and the old, the employers and their employees, the teachers and their students, the parents and their children and, of course, the fiancés and their fiancées.

It is believed that Bangladeshi youths, especially the young boys and girls in their adolescence, are spending thousands of taka every month on account of cell phone bills to keep themselves connected with their fiancées and fiancés at the expense of their money meant for their education and health remitted by their poor guardians from village homes.

Also a poor rickshaw puller working in a city, enamored by emotive TV advertisements like the one showing a lady passing sleepless nights and looking out the window in forlorn hope of his arrival, buys SIM cards, instead of milk, to keep tabs with his kith and kin at his village home.

During a journey on river a few years back, I told a fellow passenger, who was holding two mobile phones, how he would react if, for any reason, the government had decided to stop totally the operation of mobile phone services in Bangladesh. My journey-mate answered: “I am ready to skip one meal a day, but not a minute of mobile phone service. It’s my lifeline!”

Everybody—every operator and every user—is so intoxicated with the mobile phones that nobody dares ask anybody to reduce its use.

With tobacco introduced in 1500s, a smoking culture had flourished all over the world that siphoned off billions of dollars from smokers’ pockets first to the pouches of tobacco manufacturers and traders and then to the bank accounts of hospitals. It took more than 450 years for the world to realize that smoking was really harmful.

Why did the realization of smoking hazards take so many years in the past centuries, especially the last two, when the world witnessed the best scientists inventing wonders and discovering frontiers in the world of science? The reason for the delay: tobacco czars had demanded from the scientists 125% proof, a ‘smoking gun evidence’, to confirm direct links between cancer and tobacco—a tough scientific job requiring tens of years of laboratory researches and close observation and monitoring of the multitude of humans who as smokers had died of cancers.

Yes, that smoking is really harmful was scientifically proven at last, albeit after the costliest and the longest experimentation of trials and errors for a period of about half a century-a long span of time for tobacco traders and generations of their grandchildren to make enough money and escape, by churning out tobacco products and then switching over to other trades.

Following the enormous increase in the use of wireless mobile telephony throughout the world concerns have, of late, been raised by scientists as to cell phones’ effects on health as the cell phones are connected by electromagnetic waves in microwave range.

Mobile phones are basically radio sets and emit electromagnetic signals that can penetrate human body. It has been claimed that some parts of the human head are very sensitive to damage due to increases in temperature caused by radio waves.

Grimly warning about electromagnetic pollution, Professor Henry Lai of Washington University School of Medicine prophesized that human DNA may ominously be mutated as an effect of its long-term exposure to microwave radiation, proving radio waves to be more dangerous than tobaccos.

International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) set electromagnetic field (EMF) safety limits to ensure that humans are not exposed to excessive radiations that may cause brain tumors, leukemia, birth defects, miscarriages, chronic fatigue, headaches, cataracts, heart problems, stress, nausea, chest pain, forgetfulness, cancer and other health problems.

But, it is doubtful whether our BTRC has expertise, manpower or equipment to monitor how much radiation is being beamed out by which towers of which wireless operators in our country to oversee whether any wireless operation has been violating the ICNIRP safety limits!

Who will raise the questions like: Are the mobile phone operators saving costs by installing lesser number of towers than are required and by secretly boosting volumes and signal strengths of radio waves with a view to covering wider areas with lesser towers as they know very well that BTRC will not monitor their invisible operations and there is no citizens’ club to oversee what plans they are drawing inside their secret board rooms? And the gullible public, who rather get excited finding a mobile operator’s tower right on their heads or on roofs of their homes, would never realize how much radiation is charging the surrounding airs they are living in.

Back in 2007 I wrote an article titled, “How safe are our mobile phones?” where I had mentioned some grisly truths about the hazards of cell phones quoted from experts. Let me place below a set of advices that I had gleaned from a variety of reliable sources and mentioned in my 2007 article:

Protect your baby first! Never ever place a turned-on mobile/cell/cordless phone in the baby cot/carriage. The mobile phone emits microwaves even if you don’t speak in it.

Children should be discouraged from using mobile phones as their developing bodies can be more prone to radiation damage.

Buy phones with low Specific Absorption Rate (SAR).

Mobile phones should be kept away from the body as much as possible.

Don’t carry the mobile phone in the belt around the waist or in side-pockets of your normal trousers. The best place to carry the phone is in a military trousers’ leg-pocket.

Use those cell phones which have in-built loudspeakers/ microphones that allow conversations with the antenna held away from the head.

Avoid speaking for long periods on the mobile phone.

Keep switching between both ears so that one particular ear does not absorb the full brunt of the radiation all the time.

Radiation emission is at the highest when the phone is trying to connect; so keep the phone away from the skull till you see the call fully connected.

Weak signal results in higher radiation; so avoid making calls in areas where reception is poor as the device will try to boost its power to get you a connection and resultantly bombard you with more radiation.

Speak as little as possible inside the car because it amplifies the radiation.

Hands-free kits are now available for most cell phones, incorporating ferrite filters in the wire to eliminate any microwave emission going into the ear piece.

If your profession doesn’t require you to be extremely mobile, don’t print your mobile phone number on your business cards.

Keep your cell phone on the bedside table. Don’t keep the cell phone on your bed when you are asleep; your eyes and testes, susceptible to radiation, may unknowingly come in very close contact with the phone.

Don’t use the phone’s whip antenna as a bud for cleaning inside your ears.

The best attitude would be to treat your cell phone as a piece of hot burning coal. You better decide how best you should use this hot coal as your phone. Should the burning coal be near your pillow when you are deep asleep with your infant baby by your side?

Glued to their cell phones the way my daughter Miss Cutie and your son Master Smarty are chatting the whole night away, God forbid, if Professor Henry Lai’s prophecy on DNA’s mutation as an effect of long-term exposure to microwave radiation finally proves true with cent per cent validation, let us say, after 20 years, Bangladesh, I can vouch for any bet, may turn out to be the biggest laboratory or the largest hospital in the world full of cell phone sick patients, most afflicted by incurable cancer.

The writer can be reached at e-mail: maswood@hotmail.com

Financial Express

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