Oregon Community Talks Policy Ahead of Smart Meter Ramp Up
Though around 4,000 of the devices have been installed by the Eugene Water and Electric Board, roughly a third of those customers have not consented to the use of remote features.
/ FEBRUARY 5, 2018
(TNS) — The Eugene Water & Electric Board’s commissioners on Tuesday may revise their nearly five-year-old policy on so-called “smart” meters as the utility ramps up its community-wide installation of the sometimes-controversial devices.
With the proposed change, EWEB customers would have to opt out by contacting the utility and asking it to stop the wireless meters at their home or business from sending usage data and receiving instructions, once they’re installed over the next eight years.
Under the current opt-in policy, adopted in October 2013, customers must give their permission before EWEB can turn on the meters’ communications features.
Those features allow EWEB to connect and disconnect water and electricity remotely, collect electric and water usage data for billing remotely, and detect power outages and water leaks.
The meters are controversial in part because some people consider the radio waves from them to be dangerous to human health, including possibly being carcinogenic.
The meters over the long haul could benefit EWEB’s finances, however, by greatly reducing the need for meter readers who drive to each customer each month to collect usage data from their meter.
EWEB has already installed more than 4,000 smart meters, but at about a third of them, the customers have not given their approval for usage of the remote features, so instead, meter readers must visit those properties each month.
The board’s discussion and the public’s chance to comment Tuesday come as EWEB prepares this year to ramp up its installation of the smart meters in most of its service area.
The utility already has spent millions of dollars to install the antennas and computer systems to collect and store the usage data the meters can send.
The discussion is certain to rekindle opposition by the remote meters’ local critics, who cite health, privacy and cost concerns. They showed up in force during the discussion that preceded commissioners’ adoption of the current opt-in policy.
Board President John Brown said the utility’s recently adopted strategic plan presents arguments on why commissioners could accelerate use of smart meters, but they still need to hear from the public.
“I don’t know where we’re going to end up,” he said. “I’m not counting votes until the hands are up, but (the new direction) may happen.”
If commissioners agree to a change, the opt-out policy wouldn’t take effect immediately. EWEB would still need to review customer service policies later this year.
EWEB employees began installing smart meters last year after contracting with Sensus USA in May 2015 to purchase the new meters and install the equipment that runs the system.
Commissioners authorized the project at the same time they adopted the opt-in policy.
Through December, EWEB said it spent a total of $7.1 million on the project — $1.7 million on meter purchases and $5.4 million on completing other elements of the system.
Prior to May 2015, the utility spent about $1 million, primarily for consulting services.
Over the next eight years, under the conversion schedule commissioners adopted last summer, EWEB estimates it will spend nearly $19.5 million on smart electric and water meters. EWEB has a total of 93,000 electric meters and 61,000 water meters.
The utility estimates at the end of that process, it will see a net savings of $1.5 million in annual operating costs as EWEB lays off meter readers. It now has 20 meter readers.
To date, employees have installed 3,900 smart electric meters and 800 smart water meters, focusing on replacing old devices that are failing or are in unsafe areas that put meter readers at risk of injury.
About two-thirds of those meters are transmitting usage data to EWEB, according to the utility’s statistics, meaning those customers have opted into the smart-meter usage. The remainder of those new meters need to be read by a staff meter reader.
EWEB General Manager Frank Lawson made clear that with its current opt-in policy, EWEB isn’t realizing the full potential of the new technology.
He noted in a report that installing and then activating a smart meter under the opt-in policy is inefficient because employees have to drive around to individual homes rather than swap out entire blocks of homes at one time.
Also, residents often don’t return calls to EWEB after smart meters are installed, to authorize EWEB to transmit usage data, requiring more calls and work hours to try to secure the customer’s approval.
Lawson said his staff estimated that over the course of the eight-year accelerated deployment of smart meters, the opt-in policy would cost the utility about $600,000 more a year than the alternative. That’s because of the staff time and fuel costs to seek the authorization and then have employees drive to individual homes a second time to activate the devices for remote usage, Lawson said.
The opt-in policy is contrary not only to EWEB’s initiative to keep rates down by holding down costs, Lawson said, but also its recently adopted strategic plan that prioritizes quickly restoring power after storms and major disasters and making electric use as efficient as possible.
Currently, EWEB doesn’t know if a customer has lost power unless he or she reports it. Smart meters automatically report outages so crews can initiate repairs in less time, the utility said.
In addition, wide distribution of active smart meters would open the door to EWEB adopting in the future “time of use” pricing — setting different electric rates depending on the time of day, the utility said.
EWEB’s current rates are based on how much total electricity a customer uses each month.
The aim of time-of-use pricing is to curb electricity use during the day by charging higher prices in the morning and after work. The resulting customer shift to avoid higher rates would reduce the peak loads that EWEB — and ultimately customers through higher rates — pay to buy or produce more power to handle the increased demand at those peak times.
Lawson said the smart meters EWEB has installed so far have proven reliable and accurate.
In addition, the meters have identified water leaks at 68 homes, according to Lawson’s report. In two cases, the meters have pinpointed problems with a home’s connection to EWEB’s grid that utility crews repaired, it said.
But concerns continue to persist about smart meters, which emit radio waves, a type of electromagnetic radiation.
The American Cancer Society cites the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which classified this radiation has “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” The organization noted it’s possible smart meters could increase the risk of cancer, although it’s difficult to quantify the risk.
Critics have also raised concerns about more immediate health effects from electromagnetic hypersensitivity that can disrupt sleep and can cause headaches, fatigue, dizziness and an inability to concentrate.
Lawson said he doesn’t want to minimize the possibility that certain environmental conditions can cause people to fall ill or feel unwell, and believes some people are sensitive to radio frequencies.
But he said the amount of radio waves the smart meters
emit is tiny as they “talk” a few seconds a day at most. And Lawson said EWEB chose a system that minimizes the “talking” as much as possible.
He noted people already are bombarded with radio waves from smartphones, wireless routers and other devices.
“I would … equate (smart meters) to me driving my go-kart down the L.A. freeway,” he said. “There’s so much else around it that’s just going to drown it out,” he said.
Michael Lee, a Eugene resident affiliated with Families for Safe Meters, the local group that objected to the devices in 2013, said the concern is the cumulative effect of this radiation on the human body.
“It’s like money in the bank. You keep putting it in and it all adds up, and the argument that we already have a bunch of that stuff is not a good argument to have more. There are critical points where the straw breaks the camel’s back,” he said.
Critics also have noted an opt-out policy falls short because while they can choose not to have the devices, they can still be impacted by neighbors who opt in.
Lee also said smart meters could be vulnerable to hacking. EWEB said it hired a cybersecurity firm to test the system. The review identified one vulnerability that the utility will fix soon with additional software, according to the staff report.
Lee characterized smart meters as a solution looking for a problem.
“I know that the people would like to have a toy and they love the power of sitting at headquarters and being able to shut off with a button and that sort of thing, and the other utilities have it, but I just don’t understand why they want it.”
IF YOU GO
What: Eugene Water & Electric Board commissioners will discuss changing its opt-in policy on “smart” meters.
When: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. Residents can speak to the board for three minutes during the meeting’s public input session, which precedes the commissioners’ discussion and possible vote.
Where: EWEB Board Room, 500 E. Fourth Ave.
Information: The staff report is available online at http://bit.ly/ewebmeter.
©2018 The Register-Guard (Eugene, Ore.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Open Letter on the Electromagnetic Hyper-Sensitivity Research by Dariusz Leszczynski
- Open Letter on the Electromagnetic Hyper-Sensitivity Research by Dariusz Leszczynski
Posted by Dariusz Leszczynski on ‘Between a Rock and a Hard Place’ February 4, 2018
To the attention of:
- The World Health Organization: Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus; email@example.com; @DrTedros; @DrTedros.Official
- The WHO EMF Project: Head Emilie T. van Deventer firstname.lastname@example.org
- The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP):Chair Eric van Röngen; email@example.com
- The European Commission Directorate for Research and Innovation:Commissioner Carlos Moedas; firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA): CEO Lars-Magnus Larsson; email@example.com
- The National Health and Medical Council (NHMRC): CEO Anne Kelso; firstname.lastname@example.org
The end of the road for EHS (IEI-EMF) provocation studies
Dariusz Leszczynski, PhD, DSc
Adjunct Professor of Biochemistry, University of Helsinki, Finland
Chief Editor of ‘Radiation and Health’ specialty, Frontiers in Public Health, Lausanne, Switzerland
Research funding and reviewing agencies should re-consider their stance on the importance of the research on EHS/IEI-EMF. Research should continue but the approach should change. The dominant study protocol till now, provocation studies, need to be replaced with studies examining molecular level physiology changes. Continuation of the research using provocation studies will not provide reliable scientific answers concerning EHS/IEI-EMF. Continuation of research using provocation studies approach is simply a waste of time and scarce resources.
NTP: Microwave News Article Archive (2004 – )
1. NTP’s bottom line on cell phone use: “This is not a high risk situation.”
2. RF radiation has biological effects at levels previously believed to be innocuous —they may be good or bad.
3. NTP will continue to do RF health studies. A new exposure facility is being…
The NTP has released two reports on the cancer risks from cell phone radiation (GSM and CDMA) on rats and mice. They are available here.
The NTP press release, “High Exposure to RF Radiation Linked to Tumor Activity in Male Rats” is here.
January 29, 12018
The National Toxicology Program (NTP) has announced that the draft reports…
“Considering (a) the conflicting results of RF epidemiology studies and (b) the lack of generally accepted biophysical or molecular mechanisms through which RF could induce or promote neoplasia, data from animal bioassays will play a central role in ‘weight-of-the-evidence’ assessments of the possible health effects of RF exposure.” Abstract only. By IITRI’s David McCormick, who ran the exposures for the NTP–cell phone cancer study.
“Evaluation of the Genotoxicity of Cell Phone RF Radiation in Male and Female Rats and Mice Following Subchronic Exposure.” NTP paper presented at Environmental Mutagenesis and Genomics Society annual meeting, September 9-13, 2017.
The National Toxicology Program (NTP) will release the “complete results” of its $25 million project on cell phone cancer risks early next year, according to a statement posted on its Web site yesterday.
“The complete results from all the rats and mice studies will be available for peer review and public comment by early 2018,” the NTP states. The animals were exposed to GSM or CDMA radiation for two years before they were sacrificed…
The incidence of glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the most virulent and deadly type of brain cancer, is going up in the U.K., while the incidence there of other types of malignant brain tumors are declining, according to some newly published raw data.
Take a look at the two plots below and the trends are immediately apparent.
The incidence rates are not corrected for age, or…
Also here. Mostly Michael Wyde’s talk with important comments by NTP Director Linda Birnbaum and Associate Director John Bucher. Birnbaum calls the link between RF and Schwannomas of the heart “unequivocally clear” (@43:20-minute mark). A few minutes later, she describes it as having a “beautiful dose-relationship.” Bucher talks about the continuity in the spectrum between hyperplasia and glioma.
Covers pathology, survival and genetic toxicology results.
One common criticism of the new NTP cell phone cancer study is that, unlike the male rats, there was no significant increase in tumors among female rats.
For instance in its latest assault on the NTP results, the New York Times is running a comment by a pediatrics professor in Indiana, in which he states:
“It’s also odd that…
This evening, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) released a draft of the report on its two-year cell phone cancer study. Linda Birnbaum, the director of the NIEHS, and John Bucher, the leader of the study, will present the report at a teleconference tomorrow, Friday. They are the director and associate director of the NTP, respectively. [Birnbaum did not…
NTP Study – Darius Leszczynski’s first impressions…
- NTP Study – Darius Leszczynski’s first impressions…
From the blog; Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Today, the US NTP published results of its animal study examining effects of RF-EMF on mice and rats. Both reports are quite long to read and I had no time for detailed evaluation yet. However, in my opinion, NTP study demonstrates that exposures to cell phone radiation cause biological and health effects in animals. This confirms that biological and health effects in humans are possible.
The most significant finding, in my opinion, is the development of gliomas in exposed animals. Increased risk for developing of the same tumor was shown in epidemiological studies. This is a very significant finding. NTP study dramatically strengthens the evidence obtained from epidemiological studies. Now, mechanism for the development of glioma should be determined. It needs to be determined whether RF radiation induces glioma by itself or whether RF radiation only assists in development of gliomas caused by other factor(s). The first option is more dangerous but less likely. Dangerous because many users could be in danger of developing glioma but less likely because RF has low energy. The second option is less dangerous and more likely. Less dangerous because RF would only assist in developing of the glioma caused by other factors. Glioma is a rare disease so, there would be not so many persons that would develop glioma with the help of RF exposure. This option is for me more likely because RF has been shown to activate various cellular signaling pathways able to assist in development of cancer. I explained this, to some degree, in my article in The Conversation UK. Replication of the NTP study is needed with new settings to examine the origins of glioma. SNIP
Town of Killian endures financial strain from problems with municipal water service
KILLIAN – The lack of available funds to repair a functionally obsolete meter-reading system has left the Town of Killian at an impasse on how to determine an accurate fee for water services which are draining the town coffers, according to Mayor Peter Bock
The meters represent only a part of the town’s problems, which have included maintenance costs which cost the cash-strapped municipality between $5,000 and $10,000 per month.
The added costs have led Bock to consider options to ease the drain of funds.
“Are we losing money? Yes. Is it getting worse every month? Yes. And we have to address it somehow.”
A major part of the problem stems from inoperable meters, which have left the town in the dark on how much money it makes – or loses – from the system.
The flat fee of $26 per month comes as a bonanza for water customers in this town of 1,100 in the southeastern end of Livingston Parish. The flat rate for the 400 or so meters in the area and the costs of repairing the damaged meters have combined to deliver a double-whammy to the town coffers.
The town in 2010 acquired the “smart meter” wireless systems, which forwarded the data through a mobile system. The wireless system came into play the same time the town upgraded the water pipes and analog meters through a $100,000 grant from the Louisiana Government Assistance Program.
Problems with the meters surfaced approximately three years ago.
“It’s been at least two years since we’ve gotten anything from the smart meter,” Bock said. “We basically gave up on it.”
The town bought the “smart meter” system – a PTS-5 Tesla – from Infinity, a Texas-based firm which went bankrupt before it was acquired by RG-3 Meter Co. of Longview, Texas.
The town could get remanufactured analog meters for $100 apiece, but funds keep that idea from moving forward.
“You still have to install them, and who on earth is going to install meters for less than one hundred dollars,” he said. “The meters are difficult to find and nothing was done uniform, and then how do you afford to have someone read your meters?”
The lack of operative meters disqualify the town from securing federal grant funding. LGAP funds are out of the question, meanwhile, because of the state’s budget crisis.
If the town would continue the meter system, the options on how to read meters would be limited.
The town would likely contract the meter-reading and go back to a quarterly billing – or even a six-month system – because of the added costs from a monthly system.
Customers who own camps in the area already pay a lump sum and allow the town to pull from the money to pay it off, but the extended billing system could also cause the number of delinquencies to multiply.
“You’d have people whose water bills would go from twenty-five dollars to one hundred dollars,” Bock said. “The number of delinquent bills could escalate quickly, and then we’d have an even bigger problem.”
Limited funds may require the town to outsource water service, but not many options exist.
Additional mandates the federal government imposed – including Clean Water Act issues and monthly reports – have forced many of the small suppliers out of business, Bock said.
“All of those things are good things, but they just did away with the smaller entities,” he said.
Then-Mayor Gillis Windham sought grants through the Rural Water Act which yielded a $500,000 grant to the town for a water plant, but the federal money also comes with a myriad of regulations and upgrade requirements.
A tie-in to another system for backup is among the requirements. It is similar to a deal the Town of Springfield has kept in place with French Settlement Water Co., even though it has started its own system.
An iron-rich content in the water will require chemical abatement. Unlike chlorine, it’s not on a steady rise.
But the costs for an increase in chemicals could pose a further drain on the town coffers – enough, in fact, to take an unprecedented step.
“We may have to go into reserves for the first time ever for the water department, possibly next month” Bock said. “I don’t want to do that, and the ball is already rolling on how to get out of this.”
Bock cannot give an estimate on how much the system has lost.
A rate increase of $2.00 yielded very little. The town thought the increase would get the system over the hump, but the added costs and uncertainty over an accurate fee for water service makes it difficult to determine how much money it has lost, Bock said.
State Rep. Gary Glenn (R-Williams Township), chair of the House Energy Policy Committee, said testimony today about improper shutoffs affecting DTE Energy customers shows more customer choice is needed in Michigan.
Current Michigan law restricts alternative electricity suppliers to 10 percent of the state’s market, which Glenn said is an unreasonable and artificial cap harming electricity customers.
“If customers were unhappy with DTE service – if this were any other business – they would be free to choose another provider,” Glenn said. “In this case, customers don’t have that freedom of choice because the state as a matter of policy has taken it away from them. The state has created a government-privileged monopoly guaranteeing DTE and Consumers Energy 90 percent of the market, and we’re hearing from unhappy customers as a result.”
The Energy Policy Committee today heard testimony from DTE officials about recent shutoffs. Earlier this month, the committee heard testimony from utility customers who said they paid bills regularly and on time but still had their power shut off.
The Michigan Public Service Commission has said billing and shutoff issues have arisen since DTE’s transition to a new billing system last year.
DTE officials testified that errors in the new billing platform resulted in about 5,300 incidents of wrongful disconnection. The utility said 99 percent of the wrongful disconnections were customers whose accounts were in arrears and had received some notice about non-payment, but not the duplication of notice required by the MPSC.
Glenn noted a significant number of shutoffs were due to other errors, affecting customers who had paid their bills.
Some of the shutoffs have affected customers who do not want “smart meter” technology installed on their property. Glenn said he will propose changes to House Bill 4220, which he introduced last year, to allow Michigan residents to opt out of the technology and avoid any potential shutoff issues. Glenn said he will consider amendments to allow cost-free opting out for customers who self-report their utility usage.
Utility raises its fee on SM opt-out
Decision affects 20 CU customers
About 20 Cleveland Utilities customers who refused to have high-tech AMI-AMR electric meters installed in their homes three years ago will face an increase in their monthly opt-out fee effective Jan. 1.
Currently paying $10 per month not to have a so-called “smart meter” connected to their homes, the handful of customers will now be paying $13.50 by vote of the Cleveland Board of Public Utilities.
“When we initially installed AMI meters, we had some individuals, that for different reasons, did not [want] the meters,” Ken Webb, CU president and CEO, told utility board members during a formal session Thursday.
At that time, some 29 CU Electric Division customers opposed having the automated meters hooked up to their homes. Reasons cited included variations on privacy, health and accuracy.
In order to complete the lengthy and expensive conversion of its 30,000 manually read electric meters, CU initially bypassed the customers opposing the move and continued to read their meters through the use of over-the-road routes.
In time, and as the conversion neared its completion, the local utility developed an opt-out fee program in which any customer refusing to use the AMI-AMR technology would be assessed a $10 per month opt-out fee.
Now, three years later the amount is increasing.
“We said at that time [in 2012] that as part of the fee we would review the costs on a regular basis, and to see if [the fee] is continuing to cover the actual cost for us to go out and read the meters manually the way we did for years,” Webb told board members in reviewing the history of the smart-meter conversions.
He said the most recent evaluation was conducted by Marshall Stinnett, chief financial officer.
“I [first] looked at it right at 18 months ago,” Stinnett told the board. “It was still fairly in line. We could have adjusted it a little at that point, but it was so small that we said we’d look at it again going forward.”
He added, “As I re-evaluated it, I took a look at it as far as the number of customers we now have on the opt-out program. I looked at the costs associated with doing that manual read; and, [I looked] at the actual fixed costs that we have associated with doing that.”
The end result, he concluded, is a fee increase of $3.50 per month.
“These costs are driven by the number of customers that want to be in the [opt-out] program,” he said. “When I looked at it this last time, there were 29. Now, we’re actually down to 20.”
Stinnett said the latest dropout came last month.
“It [the number] continues to change, and because of that we have to re-evaluate to assure that all our other customers are not subsidizing a cost for others to be a part of that program,” the CFO explained.
This type of automated technology came under fire several years ago when more and more utilities began embracing it. That’s because opponents feared that utility companies eventually could use the meters to control energy consumption inside homes, as well as to monitor homeowners’ energy-use habits. This was considered an invasion of privacy.
Others who opposed smart meters claimed health hazards associated with increased risks for cancer. Others doubted the accuracy of such automated technology in measuring customers’ energy use.
Utility companies wanted to convert to higher tech meters because of cost, efficiency and the environment.
The use of AMI-AMR meters, that are read by electronic remote via fiber optics, is supported by the utility industry because it saves power companies money on payroll, fuel and vehicle maintenance, all three of which are made possible by the elimination of manual meter-reading routes, according to published reports.
Utility companies also point to the efficiencies of AMI-AMR technology; that is, identifying the source and location of power interruptions, and the efficiency of automated reading. Companies also point to the value to the environment of taking more vehicles off the road.
When Cleveland Utilities began converting its fleet of electric meters, the change was accepted by most of its customers. However, a small number cited concerns and asked CU for options.
The opt-out fee was one of those options.
Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland, who represents the City Council on the utility board, asked Stinnett if the few remaining in the opt-out program still oppose the meters for the same reasons.
“I’ve spoken with two in the last month and they’ve given different answers,” Stinnett said. “Some are for health concerns, and some are privacy concerns. Some have had comments about accuracy.”
Stinnett said CU has worked to help customers understand how smart meter technology works and that it poses no greater threat to customers’ health than cellphones and microwaves.
“… At the end of the day, it’s still their choice to make so we honor that,” the CFO said.
Asked by board vice chairman Eddie Cartwright what other utilities are doing to accommodate smart-meter opponents, Webb answered, “It’s all over the board. Some are not allowing the [opt-out] program at all.”
Cartwright said he wasn’t making a recommendation, but he wondered if eliminating the opt-out program altogether would simplify the complexities of establishing a fee and softening any ill will created by raising it periodically.
“One thing we’re hearing from our customers is, ‘I want options,’” Webb said. “This is an option that we’re offering. Now, options can sometimes come with costs. We just don’t feel like it’s fair for other customers who have the meters to absorb any additional cost [caused by customers not wanting the smart meters].”
Board Chairman Aubrey Ector asked if any new CU customers had walked in recently to ask about opting out of smart-meter use.
“I had one just last month,” Stinnett said. “She moved from another service territory … her reasoning was health.”
“Did she have a cellphone?” Rowland asked.
“She did,” Stinnett replied. “And I also discussed that with her. We try to give them all the information, but at the end of the day it is their choice.”
Like Webb, Stinnett said CU continues to review the opt-out program and its accompanying fee. But there are no guarantees for the future.
“As we move forward and we look into the future of rate designs, that option might not be there,” Stinnett said. “But currently, we are able to give them that option.”
Board members authorized the fee increase on a 5-0 vote after a motion by Joe Cate and second by Cartwright. Others approving the hike were Chari Buckner, Ector and Rowland.
Webb and Stinnett confirmed CU will review the opt-out program, and accompanying fee, each year.
Ban student cellphones in Mass. public schools
Besides teachers spending less time teaching in classrooms, one of the biggest problems in student learning — and the overall mental health of children — is the overarching addiction to cell phones.
If Massachusetts is serious about what is taking place in classrooms, the state Board of Education should enact a blanket ban on all cell phones coming into the classroom.
The problem extends beyond the distraction and disturbances of buzzing and ringing cell phones when a teacher is trying to deliver a lesson plan. While recent studies show that Americans are spending more time on their electronic devices, the emerging problem rests with children becoming wedded to screened deevices for hours on end. It’s unhealthy.
Cell phone usage is taking up chunks of time previously reserved for engaging in social skill-building. Simple — and normal — after-school play time with friends is becoming less frequent. Experts say social development skills that form the basis to a fulfilling adolescence and lead to successful adulthood are being delayed or ignored.
But let’s get back to the classroom. A Pew Research Study found that 95 percent of Americans now own a cellphone of some kind, and 77 percent own a smartphone. Children as young as 7 years old are regularly carrying cellphones with them on their first day of school!
Cellphones should be used in moderation by the younger set. Sharing face-to-face experiences with classmates, learning to converse, work in teams and resolve disputes should be balanced with time spent on screen devices.
According to child psychologists, overuse of cellphones can create isolation; a student goes home, jumps on the bed, and begins texting with friends or playing electronic games. The lack of physical recreation can lead to obesity and even depression.
In the December issue of Atlantic magazine, San Diego State psychology professor Jean M. Twenge offers a chilling account of the behavioral effects of iPhones on the post-Millennials generation. Her 25 years of research leads to a sad pronouncement: These adolescents, who feel more comfortable online than out socializing, are on the brink of a mental health crisis. The article, “Has the Smartphone Destroyed a Generation?”, concludes that “the more time teens spend looking at screens (and social media), the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression.”
Twenge’s surveys show that kids are spending six to nine hours a week on social media alone. In turn, they’re not hanging out with friends, in no rush to learn how to drive (independence was a rite of passage for younger generations), date less, and are more likely to feel lonely.
People — and governments — are taking action. French President Emmanuel Macrom made banning cellphones in school a campaign pledge. In December, the French Parliament enacted a cellphone use ban for students 15 years old or younger. “These days the children don’t play at break time anymore; they are just all in front of their smartphones, and from an educational point of view, that’s a problem, Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer told The Telegraph of London.
The is not only a school issue. Parents should be monitoring how much time their children spend on screened devices.
In our view, though, Massachusetts can get a head start by enacting a law that tells kids to put down their phones in school.
Millimeter Waves Travel More Than 10 Kilometers in Rural Virginia 5G Experiment
A key 5G technology got an important test over the summer in an unlikely place. In August, a group of students from New York University packed up a van full of radio equipment and drove for ten hours to the rural town of Riner in southwest Virginia. Once there, they erected a transmitter on the front porch of the mountain home of their professor, Ted Rappaport, and pointed it out over patches of forest toward a blue-green horizon.
Then, the students spent two long days driving their van up and down local roads to find 36 suitable test locations in the surrounding hills. An ideal pull-off would have ample parking space on a public lot, something not always easily available on rural backroads. At each location, they set up their receiver and searched the mountain air for millimeter waves emanating from the equipment stacked on the front porch.
To their delight, the group found that the waves could travel more than 10 kilometers in this rural setting, even when a hill or knot of trees was blocking their most direct route to the receiver. The team detected millimeter waves at distances up to 10.8 kilometers at 14 spots that were within line of sight of the transmitter, and recorded them up to 10.6 kilometers away at 17 places where their receiver was shielded behind a hill or leafy grove. They achieved all this while broadcasting at 73 Gigahertz (GHz) with minimal power—less than 1 watt.
“I was surprised we exceeded 10 kilometers with a few tens of milliwatts,” Rappaport says. “I expected we’d be able to go a few kilometers in non-line-of-sight but we were able to go beyond ten.”
The 73 GHz frequency band is much higher than the sub-6 GHz frequencies that have traditionally been used for cellular signals. In June, the Federal Communications Commission opened 11 GHz of spectrum in the millimeter wave range (which spans 30 to 300 GHz) to carriers developing 5G technologies that will provide more bandwidth for more customers.
Rappaport says their results show that millimeter waves could potentially be used in rural macrocells, or for large cellular base stations. Until now, millimeter waves have delivered broadband Internet through fixed wireless, in which information travels between two stationary points, but they have never been used for cellular.
Robert Heath, a wireless expert at the University of Texas at Austin, says the NYU group’s work adds another dimension to 5G development. “I think it’s valuable in the sense that a lot of people in 5G are not thinking about the extended ranges in rural areas, they’re thinking that range is, incorrectly, limited at high carrier frequencies,” Heath says.
In the past, Rappaport’s group has shown that a receiver positioned at street level can reliably pick up millimeter waves broadcast at 28 GHz and 73 GHz at a distance of up to 200 meters in New York City using less than 1 watt of transmitter power—even if the path to the transmitter is blocked by a towering row of buildings.
Before those results, many had thought it wasn’t possible to use millimeter waves for cellular networks in cities or in rural regions because the waves were too easily absorbed by molecules in the air and couldn’t penetrate windows or buildings. But Rappaport’s work showed that the tendency of these signals to reflect off of urban surfaces including streets and building facades was reliable enough to provide consistent network coverage at street level—outside, at least.
Whether or not their newest study will mean the same for millimeter waves in rural areas remains to be seen. Rappaport says the NYU team is one of the first to explore this potential for rural cellular, and he feels strongly that it could soon be incorporated into commercial systems for a variety of purposes including wide-band backhaul and as a replacement for fiber.
“The community has always been mistaken, thinking that millimeter waves don’t go as far in clear weather and free space—they travel just as far as today’s lower frequencies if antennas have the same physical size,” Rappaport says. “I think it’s definitely viable for mobile.”
Others aren’t convinced. Gabriel Rebeiz, a professor of electrical and computer engineering who leads wireless research at the University of California, San Diego, points out that the NYU group ran their tests on two clear days. Rain can degrade 73-GHz signals at a rate of 20 decibels per kilometer, which is equivalent to reducing signal strength 100-fold for every kilometer traveled.
“Rain at 73 GHz has significant, significant, unbelievable attenuation properties,” he says. “At these distances, the second it starts raining—I mean, misting, if it just mists—you lose your signal.”
Rebeiz says signals would hold up better at 28 GHz, only degrading 6 to 10-fold over a range of 10 kilometers. Millimeter waves will ultimately be more useful in cities, he says, but he doubts they will ever make sense for rural cellular networks: “It’s not going to happen. Period.”
George R. MacCartney Jr., a fourth-year Ph.D student in wireless engineering at NYU, thinks millimeter waves could perhaps be used to serve rural cellular networks in five or 10 years, once the technology has matured. One challenge is that future antennas must aim a signal with some precision to make sure it arrives at the user. That’s because millimeter waves reflect off of objects, and can take multiple paths from transmitter to receiver. But as for millimeter waves making their rural cellular debut in the next few years—“I’d say I’m a little skeptical just because you’d have to have a lot of small antenna elements and you’d have to do a lot of beamforming and beam steering,” he says.
By collecting rural measurements for millimeter waves, the NYU experiment was designed to evaluate a propagation model that the standards group called the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) has put forth for simulating millimeter waves in rural areas. That model, known as 3GPP TR 38.900 Release 14, tries to figure out the strength of a millimeter wave signal once it’s emitted from a rural base station according to factors such as height of the cell tower, height of the average user, height of any buildings in the area, street width, and the frequency used to broadcast it.
The NYU group suggests that because this model was “hastily adopted” from an earlier one used for lower frequencies, it’s ill-suited to accurately predict how higher frequencies behave. Therefore, according Rappaport’s team, the model will likely predict greater losses at longer distances than actually occur. Rappaport prefers what’s called a close-in (CI) free-space reference distance model, which better fits his measurements. A representative of 3GPP was not available for comment.
In October, Rappaport presented the group’s work at the Association of Computing Machinery’s MobiCom conference and their latest study will be published in the proceedings. In the meantime, it is posted to arXiv.