A telecommunications industry body has warned that continuing sabotage of cell towers could affect Auckland’s mobile and internet connectivity, Marc Daalder reports

There have been 14 attempted arson attacks carried out against cell towers and other mobile network infrastructure in the past six weeks.

Of these, 10 have occurred in Auckland, the Telecommunications Forum (TCF) has said in a statement.

Vandalism began in early April, coinciding with a massive uptick in the popularity of false 5G-related conspiracy theories, including one that wrongly attributes blame for the coronavirus pandemic to the wireless technology. Newsroom understands that none of the towers targeted in recent attacks are 5G-related.

“These attacks are infuriating and can have real connectivity impacts for New Zealanders – meaning people could have reduced mobile phone and internet coverage in an area with a damaged cell site, which is a real issue particularly in South Auckland. While we’ve been able to keep customers connected so far, each attack has a cumulative negative impact,” said Tony Baird, Vodafone NZ’s wholesale and infrastructure director.

“This is senseless activity and sadly, the greatest damage it causes is to the local homes and businesses who are having their technology cut off at a time when they need it most,” said Martin Sharrock, chief technology officer for 2degrees.

“Attacks on critical infrastructure are inexcusable at the best of times, let alone during a pandemic. A disruption to mobile connectivity can put New Zealanders at risk by cutting off access to critical services like 111, we encourage anyone who sees suspicious activity near a cell tower to contact police or crime stoppers,” Mark Beder, Spark NZ’s technology director, said.

NZ Compare, a consumer advice and transparency firm, released a survey in December that found 46 percent of Kiwis are concerned that 5G might affect human health and a third were worried about its impact on animals and plants. Such worries are unfounded, according to scientific experts, but the movement opposing 5G is surprisingly widespread, as Newsroom reported in October.

Anti-5G protesters are concerned the technology could kill bees or give humans cancer, but the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor has launched a new website to dispel these myths.

“The radio waves used for 5G have frequencies that are ten thousand times too low to damage molecules,” the website states.

“Radio waves can heat our body if we are over-exposed to them. However, these effects can only occur when exposed directly to a very powerful source so that the heat builds up enough to damage tissue before it dissipates. 5G sources are simply not powerful enough to cause damage in this way.

“Many researchers have explored possible connections between radio frequency radiation and cancer and as is often the case when there are many separate studies, a small number have reported an association between exposure and cancer, such as mobile phone use and brain tumour risk.

“Significantly more high-quality studies have found no associations, including studies funded by cancer research organisations. The clear conclusion reached internationally, supported by health authorities in New Zealand, is that exposure to this type of radiation at levels experienced in New Zealand is not hazardous.”

A quick comparison between the countries that have deployed 5G and those that have suffered the worst from Covid-19 shows there is little correlation. For example, France, which has the seventh most cases and more than 27,000 deaths, has no 5G network. Likewise, the Netherlands ranks 17th in total infections but has no 5G network.

On the other hand, the Philippines, which has had 5G since July, has reported just 11,876 cases of the virus. South Korea, which had one million 5G users in June of last year, also has a quarter of the number of cases that the Netherlands has. Even New Zealand, which launched 5G in December, has had only 1498 cases and 21 deaths.

“I can’t state it clearly enough. I almost hesitate to speak to it on this platform – it is just not true,” Jacinda Ardern said of the conspiracy theory in April.

Marc Daalder is a senior political reporter based in Wellington who covers climate change, health, energy and violent extremism. Twitter/Bluesky: @marcdaalder

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