My turn: Wireless whack-a-mole Continues in Ashfield and Heath

Published: 11/2/2021 8:27:44 AM

Last winter, residents in Ashfield abutting a proposed AT&T cell tower came together to file a memorandum of opposition with the help of veteran telecom lawyer Andrew Campanelli. Despite hours of pleading about the rural character of the town and impact on property values alongside their memorandum, Ashfield’s Planning Board approved the tower, with conditions. The residents filed a lawsuit, further emptying their bank accounts in an effort to not be harmed. AT&T, following the path of least resistance, has now withdrawn the application.

Last spring, AT&T filed an application to install a 180-foot cell tower in Heath. Heath’s Planning Board prudently hired Andrew Campanelli themselves. Following another massive outcry of abutters about property values and impact on Heath’s rural character, Heath’s Planning Board rejected the application. Now AT&T is suing the town for upholding its own bylaws and for elected officials representing the citizens who voted for them.

Now you might be thinking — rural character and property values? Those are important but what about cell service? Isn’t that also important? Of course. But the elephant (or in this case the “law”) in the room is section 704 of the 1996 Telecom Act which reads: “No State or local government or instrumentality thereof may regulate the placement, construction, and modification of personal wireless service facilities on the basis of the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions to the extent that such facilities comply with the Commission’s regulations concerning such emissions.”

The commission in question is the Federal Communication Commission or FCC, an agency which has been “captured” by the industry it is supposed to regulate, according to a Harvard Ethics Report.

Section 704, written by big wireless lobbyists, has led to countless injuries and deaths. Exaggeration? Just ask the group of brain cancer plaintiffs whose lawsuits against the telecom industry were still capable of being filed because they began using cell phones before 1996. Actually, you can’t ask them because they have all passed away. But you could ask their loved ones who have watched the cases be bounced around in court for years.

The telecom industry was well aware of the health effects in 1996 (see article in The Nation, “How Big Wireless Made Us Think That Cell Phones Are Safe: A Special Investigation.”) They understood elected officials would be unlikely to permit (pun intended) their neighbors to be harmed. Section 704 is, of course, absurd. If you are going to be harmed by something placed next to your home, how can elected officials be barred from considering your testimony?

Now the the Santa Fe Alliance for Public Health and Safety is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of Section 704. Hilltown Health, a local organization which advocates for safe technology in our region, has joined hundreds of other organizations in filing an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief to increase the chances the case will be heard.

Meanwhile, another cell tower application has been filed in Ashfield. This one is not as “in your face” as the last one, according to one Ashfield resident. Perhaps as a result, there has not been a huge outcry over the application. This tower would provide cell service to the center of town. However, Ashfield has wisely made fiber-optic internet available to all homes and businesses. My understanding is that if you want to use your phone in Ashfield center, all you have to do is log-on to a public hotspot. So who is this tower really serving?

After the National Toxicology Program 2018 study demonstrated “clear evidence” of cancer, the debate shifted from “is there biological harm?” to “what kinds of biological harm?” (see > science > medical consensus). This Vertex tower will injure many children and pregnant mothers, potentially for decades. In a few years, thousands of 5G satellites will offer much faster speeds in every inch of Ashfield. Vertex will make a killing though. And the out-of-town landowners will make some nice rent. When democracy itself has largely been “captured”, it is incumbent on local officials to prevent unnecessary harm.

The next and possibly last hearing is Wednesday evening, Nov. 3 on Zoom. You can find the link at or
Jonathan Mirin is a co-founder of Hilltown Health. He works with towns and safe technology advocates to update local telecom by-laws in advance of 5G deployment. His partner developed microwave sickness followinga significant exposure in 2010 and his solo streaming performance about that experience “Canary in a Gold Mine” will premiere online through the Ko Festival from Feb. 11-13. Visit for information.


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