GAO, FCC Agree Review of RF Radiation Testing of Mobile Devices Is Needed


The FCC and congressional Democrats are in agreement that the commission needs to take a fresh look at RF radiation standards for mobile phones.

A trio of house members has asked the FCC to revise its 15-year-old mobile phone/device radiation exposure and testing requirements in the wake of a new GAO report they commissioned. The commission says it already plans to do so.

The legislators say the report indicates there is no evidence to suggest using a cellphone causes cancer, but that the regime needs updating because the FCC's current testing is based on outdated research.

"The Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) RF energy exposure limit may not reflect the latest research, and testing requirements may not identify maximum exposure in all possible usage conditions," GAO said, concluding that "the FCC should formally reassess and, if appropriate, change its current RF energy exposure limit and mobile phone testing requirements related to likely usage configurations, particularly when phones are held against the body."

GAO noted that the FCC has a draft document in the works that "has the potential to address GAO's recommendations."

"As the number of users of wireless technology grows exponentially, the FCC should reevaluate acceptable radiation emission levels to determine if they need to be adjusted," said Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) in a statement.

Also calling on the FCC to update the tests were Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.). "The report shows we need more research on cell phones and their effects on human health," said Waxman. "The FCC should coordinate this research with federal health agencies to ensure that the health effects of cell phones are properly understood and appropriate emission standards are set."

For its part, the FCC says it thinks the standards are OK, but concedes it has been "many years" since they were reviewed formally and says it has a draft order and notice of proposed rulemaking teed up to review them.

"The commission staff has continuously paid close attention to developments related to RF exposure and has worked closely with other federal agencies with health expertise," said FCC Chief of the Office of Engineering and Technology Julius Knapp. "At this juncture, we believe our current standards are appropriate and protect the public against the possible harmful effects of RF exposure."

But he added that the FCC recognizes it has been years since a formal review, and points out that it is preparing to put out an order on a 2004 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and issue a second notice, the combination of which is responsive to the GAO report's concerns. "In short," he told GAO, "the FCC staff had independently arrived at the same conclusions as are reflected in the GAO report.

CTIA: The Wireless Association VP John Walls thanked GAO for its input on the "comprehensive federal regulatory oversight of wireless phone safety," and said CTIA would "continue to defer to the views of scientific experts, federal agencies with expertise and impartial health organizations."

Those experts, he said, including "the FCC, the FDA, the National Cancer Institute and the World Health Organization," have all found that "the weight of the scientific research has not established that wireless phone use causes adverse health effects...The FCC has been vigilant in its oversight in this area and has set safety standards to make sure that radio frequency fields from wireless phones remain at what it has determined are safe levels. The FCC's safety standards include a 50-fold safety factor and, as the FCC has noted, are the most conservative in the world."

He also pointed to the FCC's already announced potential review and its statement that it is "confident that its emissions guidelines for wireless devices pose no risk to consumers."