Wireless Takes San Francisco to Court

A new city ordinance requiring retailers to display how much radiation cell phones give off is causing quite a stir with the wireless industry.
by | July 28, 2010

This year, legislators in Maine and San Francisco considered bills that would advise cell phone users about the radiation emitted from their phones, which some think could contribute to a higher risk of cancer. The bill in Maine requiring warning labels on the risks of radiation didn't pass, but San Francisco's ordinance did, and the city is now facing fallout from the wireless industry.

Since the city's Board of Supervisors approved the ordinance, which requires retailers to display how much radiation a phone gives off, the industry trade group known as CTIA -- The Wireless Association announced it will move its yearly trade show to San Diego after this year and recently filed a lawsuit against the city claiming that the ordinance is unconstitutional.

CTIA claims that San Francisco's ordinance, which goes into effect next year, impedes on the Federal Communications Commission's authority to regulate cell phones. The FCC doesn't allow any phones that emit a Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) of more than 1.6 watts per kilogram when placed near the head to go to market. The ordinance would require the phone's SAR, the "maximum allowable SAR value" allowed by the FCC, a statement on what SAR is and details on where to find more information about it be displayed in store.

"The San Francisco ordinance, by conveying a misleading impression about the relative safety of wireless phones, will hinder -- rather than assist -- consumers in making their choices," said John Walls, CTIA's vice president of public affairs in a statement.

It will be interesting to see how the lawsuit unfolds. Features in magazines like GQ and Harper's have focused on potential links between cell phone use and cancer risks, but there needs to be more research -- the results from a recent UN study on this link were deemed inconclusive. That said, it wouldn't be unreasonable if someone wanted to take precautions.

Regardless of the constitutionality of the San Francisco ordinance, there are things people can do if finding and buying a low SAR phone is important to them -- remember, the FCC already regulates what is a safe SAR value. For those who want to learn how much radiation a cell phone emits, you could go to the FCC's database and input the FCC ID number for your phone or the phone you want to buy. Groups like the Environmental Working Group also have safety tips for people who are concerned about their exposure, including buying a headset.

Tina Trenkner
Tina Trenkner | Deputy Editor, GOVERNING.com | ttrenkner@governing.com  |  @tinatrenkner