Conspiracy theories ‘may hamper’ roll-out of 5G

Minister told Covid-19 pandemic to have an impact on delivery of broadband plan

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New Minister for Communications Eamon Ryan has been warned that “ill-informed concerns” and conspiracy theories may hamper the roll-out of 5G infrastructure in the State.

In a briefing document drawn up by officials, he is also warned that the spread of Covid-19 will impact on the delivery of the National Broadband Plan.

The first fibre to the home connection is expected to be made towards the end of the year, but the document says Covid-19 has already “impacted the delivery” because contractors are having difficulties getting access to buildings such as schools and GAA centres – as well as to islands.

There are issues with deliveries of required supplies from overseas because of the pandemic and the crisis has also affected the design process as well as other operational matters, according to the document.

There are also issues in relation to the availability of accommodation for contractors across Ireland and concerns over the recruitment of personnel.

New campaign

Mr Ryan’s department is also planning a new communications campaign to tackle “ill-founded” Covid-19 conspiracy claims.

The conspiracy theory that 5G masts are somehow linked to the spread of Covid-19 began to gain momentum online in early January after posts began to link the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan with the installation of 5G masts.

The conspiracy alleges, among other things, that Covid-19 has either been caused by the frequencies used for the new technology, or that those signals impair the human immune system.

The briefing says there has been “an increased public focus on possible health impacts of 5G technology, including a number of county councils passing motions opposing roll-out of 5G infrastructure.

“Concerns seem to relate to possible impacts from increased exposure to non-ionising radiation. Irish policy in the area of non-ionising radiation is informed by a substantial volume of internationally recognised scientific research and evidence.”

“This is an area that is kept under review and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) monitor scientific, technical and other developments on these matters and advise the department accordingly.

“The EPA is dedicated to providing current, factual and clear public information to alleviate unfounded fears and concern,” it also notes.

The officials said that the telecommunications industry had expressed fears “that ill-informed concerns and objections may pose a risk to investment and increase the digital divide”.

“The department is working to develop a communications strategy along with the EPA,” the briefing document confirms.

Online shopping

Meanwhile, new figures compiled in the note show the scale of the increase in online shopping during the pandemic, with record numbers of Eircode searches.

“Members of the public are using the Eircode Finder more since [pandemic] restrictions have been put in place, for online deliveries, completing online forms and giving directions. In April 2020 there were 2.3 million matched look-ups on the free-to-use Eircode Finder online tool, the highest number of look-ups since launch in 2015.”

Separately, in a briefing on climate issues, officials state that while the drop off in economic activity and travel from the Covid-19 pandemic will lead to reductions in both air pollutant and greenhouse gas emissions, the true emissions impact – which will be outlined by the EPA – will not emerge until October 2021.

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