The challenges of the 5G debate: why Macron is going strong

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What is 5G for? To speed up everything, to multiply the video and to connect everything that is not yet. Or only at “Watching porn in high definition, even in an elevator”, quips the EELV mayor of Grenoble, Éric Piolle. In theory, this new generation of mobile networks offers speeds up to 100 times faster than its little sister, 4G. For the government, it represents above all a financial windfall. Even if it means discrediting all those who, for months, have been raising legitimate questions.

“I hear a lot of voices rising to explain to us that we should (respond to) the complexity of contemporary problems by going back to the oil lamp. I do not believe that the Amish model makes it possible to solve the challenges of contemporary ecology ”, Emmanuel Macron mocked, on September 14, in front of digital bosses.

Caricatural? Drawing. Associations and elected officials of the left and environmentalists are far from rejecting progress. They require, however, a health and environmental assessment of this technology, when the state wants to induce premature birth.

1. Why the government is stepping up on 5G

It looks a lot like a jacket flip. On June 29, Emmanuel Macron did not hold the same speech at all. In front of him, no start-up bosses, but the 150 citizens of the Citizen’s Convention for the Climate.

He understood. It was promised, sworn, it resumed all of their 146 measures, once exfiltrated, however, the most structuring (the renegotiation of international treaties and the tax on dividends). 5G was there. From the first page of their report, the 150 asked: “Do we need 5G? “ They asked in the wake “To establish a moratorium (…), pending the results of the assessment of (technology) on health and climate”. September came, the results of the evaluation, still not.

Why ignore it at all costs? 5G is also a big deal. Its deployment goes hand in hand with the allocation of new radio frequencies to telecom operators. The auctions start on September 29. In total, “This should bring in at least 2 billion euros for the State”, figure Hugues Ferrebœuf, director of digital activities at the Shift Project, a think-tank that works for a low-carbon economy.

Admittedly, operators fear that, within eighteen months, there will be saturation phenomena of 4G networks in the most densely populated areas. “But, by itself, this phenomenon does not justify the deployment of 5G on the whole territory”, continues Hugues Ferrebœuf. Importantly, there are other technologies available. Fiber, for example, which does not require the installation of 40,000 additional relay antennas.

2. The “Amish model” and the need for cleavage

Used to outrageous and contemptuous remarks, since the “Crazy money”, until “People who are nothing”, Emmanuel Macron chose to caricature the debate, referring elected officials and all concerned citizens to supporters of “The oil lamp” and you “Amish model”. A Manichean formula aimed at discrediting any thought that would oppose modernity, innovation and technology of which it wants to represent. For Damon Mayaffre, linguist and historian at CNRS, “In the XIX e century, industrialism was sold. Macron sells digitalism ”.

No coincidence that the President of the Republic said these words in front of his favorite audience: the gratin of French Tech. Above all, the head of state, like a Trump, needs to split: after the environmental push in several big cities during the last municipal elections, he wanted “Green (s) we talk”, trying, thanks to a few symbolic measures, to recover an electorate that seemed to him to be close at hand. The strategy already seems to have fizzled out, with a push to the right all focused on the themes of security and separatism. It is now a question of speaking to a very reactionary electorate, follower of anti-ecological anathemas on the air of “Back to the candle” and “Green Khmers”. Everything in nuance.

3. Moratorium and public debate: the legitimate demands of elected officials

This stigma suggests that its opponents are in a firm position to reject 5G, and therefore progress. Among others, the sixty elected officials – including Jean-Luc Mélenchon, François Ruffin and Yannick Jadot – signatories of a column published this Sunday in the JDD. However, they are not asking the government to give up 5G, but urge it to decide on a moratorium on its deployment. They regret, above all, that the frequencies are allocated to operators “Without any real debate ever having taken place”, while “Environmental, health and democratic questions are asked” and that the National Health Security Agency (ANSES) must submit a report in 2021 (read below). The impacts of 5G – like its usefulness – being uncertain, the demand of elected officials is legitimate. The Senate, moreover, had formulated it in January, six months before the Citizens’ Convention.

Faced with digital inflation, and while territorial inequalities remain glaring, a democratic debate also seems urgent as to the needs of society in this area. “And this choice must not be that of operators, or even that of experts, but a choice of all citizens in order to decide in an enlightened and democratic way whether or not to install 5G”, conclude the signatories of the platform.

4. Health effects: a report but still as much unknown

At the right time, the government was given, this Tuesday, September 15, a report on the health impact of 5G could not be more reassuring. Carried out by the General Inspectorate of Finance (IGF), the General Inspectorate of Social Affairs (Igas), the General Council for the Environment and Sustainable Development (CGEDD) and the General Council of the Economy (CGE), it reproduces the data published in 26 countries, 21 of which have already launched new generation telephony. The health effects of the latter “Are not proven when the exposure limit values ​​(to waves) are respected”, concludes the synthesis, ensuring that in this area, “France has a solid control system”.

Nothing to do, however, with the environmental impact study that elected officials and citizens call for. Urgently ordered on July 2, this analysis took only two months to be carried out. A real assessment of the health effects of 5G will take more time.

Short-term technology deployment plans are in the 3.5 GHz band. However, concerning this frequency, “We lack information”, affirmed Olivier Merckel, head of the physical risks unit at ANSES (National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety) , during a round table organized by the Senate in July. Experts are working to fill the gaps, but their conclusions won’t be known until 2021.

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