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5G in Boise: Experts debunk local concerns about critical infrastructure

Photo by Claire Keener

Idahoans shared their concerns about 5G towers spreading across Boise residential areas earlier this month at a City of Boise Planning and Development meeting.

Most speakers cited information from Idahoans for Safe Technology, a not-for-profit institution working to keep 5G out of Idaho due to supposed safety concerns about the effects of radio waves. 

“The large majority of Boise citizens do not want 5G deadly microwave antennas in front of their houses cooking their families,” said Cece Andrews, a resident from Nampa, Idaho, who gave a public comment during the meeting.

Verizon rolled out 5G in 2019 and is now available from multiple carriers in Boise, but some locals are fearful of installing poles in residential areas and near schools.

Towers surround Boise State but have not yet been installed on campus. 

Collaboration with Verizon is in progress to identify the best locations for additional poles or towers to support 5G coverage on campus, especially at Albertson Stadium, according to Brian Bolt, Deputy CIO in the Office of Information Technology at Boise State.

Idahoans for Safe Technology are most concerned with microwave radiation from 4G and 5G towers, but in the past, misinformation has circulated about 5G causing COVID-19 as reported by the Idaho Statesman last year.

The truth is that microwaves like those emitted by 5G internet towers are non-ionizing, relatively low-frequency on the electromagnetic spectrum and are virtually harmless according to the CDC.

Martin Orr, professor of sociology and director of Labor Studies at Boise State, pointed out that Idahoans for Safe Technology does not provide transparent information about funding or who runs the organization on their site.

He emphasized the importance of media literacy and checking the reliability of information found on the internet before becoming too concerned about an issue.

“All claims should be examined, but some claims are going to fall apart more quickly than others,” Orr said.

Some who testified questioned the need for 5G, with multiple commenters arguing that faster movie downloads for teens is not important, and that the potential risks outweigh the benefits of this technology.

5G tower in downtown Boise
[Photo of a 5G tower in downtown Boise]
Photo by Claire Keener | The Arbiter

5G proponents say that while today’s devices function well with a 4G connection, the technology of tomorrow will need more power and bandwidth.

Inventions like smart thermostats and Alexa devices are great examples of how our technological environment creates what experts call an “internet of things,” where many different specialized devices work together to create our digital experiences, according to Anthony Ellertson, Director of Games, Interactive Media and Mobile program at Boise State.

5G provides necessary infrastructure for many devices to connect and communicate quickly.

“It’s such a big increase in download speed that people are just now trying to figure out how to use that in new productive, creative and useful ways,” Bolt said.

Elijah Moon, a Boise State sophomore studying electrical engineering, highlighted the large-scale practical uses of 5G.

“Like autonomous vehicles, it’ll allow them to almost instantaneously communicate with each other and manage the roads a lot better,” Moon said.

Boise State students have already created projects that would rely on 5G to function on a large scale, like Bronco Beam. This app uses beacon and geolocation technology to provide campus tours and directions on campus that can function as an aid to visually impaired students.

Organizers can use the app to alert nearby students about the availability of free food leftover from events in an effort to help those experiencing food insecurity.

Ellertson said his goal is for Boise State to take advantage of 5G and pioneer new technology that promotes accessibility on campus.

“The campus is really a mini-community; it’s a microcosm essentially in Boise and the Treasure Valley,” Ellertson said. “If we create something that’s scalable, we can prove that it works here. And then we can give it to the community.”

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