Friday, December 26, 2008

Health fears trigger call to unplug WiFi

Health fears trigger call to unplug WiFi

Friday, November 28, 2008, 10:25

ITS launch six months ago was marked by a small but clear protest declaring that WiFi was not welcome in Glastonbury.

The scheme gives residents and businesses wireless Internet access, and the growing friction reached a peak on Friday at a public meeting when some people continued to claim their health had been affected.

Most of those at the meeting, hosted by Somerset County Council, called for the system to be unplugged. For two hours, residents expressed anger at not being told about the system before it was implemented.

Since it was switched on in May, many residents claim to have been suffering from symptoms such as headaches, dizziness and, in some cases, panic attacks. Some say they are no longer able to visit the town because the effects are so severe.

Jane Sanders, a Glastonbury resident of 20 years, was first to raise the health concerns and said: "I was really devastated when I found that the new Glastonbury WiFi signal reached my office. It had not occurred to me that it would stretch that far, so I wasn't expecting it. But I noticed when sitting in my office that I began to feel some familiar symptoms.

"These were similar to how I've felt when in a WiFi zone before: brain-fog, slight dizziness and a sense of not being able to think straight. I checked that I was receiving a signal and found, to my dismay, that I was in the Glastonbury WiFi zone."

Natalie Fee of Glastonbury said: "My family and I moved house last weekend. We really didn't want to, but I was not prepared to have my young son sleeping next to a WiFi mast for the next ten years.

"I am pro-broadband and pro-progress and I welcome the benefits something like this can bring a town, but I would have liked to have seen it set up another way. A cable connection, for example, would have provided no health risks at all."

Another resident, Angela Davis, said: "We had no say in this, our choice seems to have been taken away. I, for one, do not want WiFi radiation beamed into my living room."

The system is the first of its kind in Somerset to be run by a local authority and operates through six antennae in the town centre. Laptop users can log on to the town portal page and from there can buy credits to surf the Internet further.

The county council has always insisted WiFi antennae do not affect health, and a spokesman said: "We will always take safety concerns seriously, but are completely confident that the WiFi project poses no health risk to anyone in Glastonbury."

Other residents said they simply did not see the point of WiFi.

Richard Chiswell, who has worked in IT for 12 years, said: "Nowadays, people wanting to access the Net will do so through handheld devices. It has been three years from the inception of the Glastonbury WiFi to its realisation, the technology is already behind.

"At least three cafes in Glastonbury can provide WiFi anyway. Anyone wanting to use it would be better off spending the money on food in these cafes and surfing at their leisure, rather than paying for credits to access the Internet elsewhere."

Resident Roy Proctor said: "I think the people behind the WiFi initiative are ignorant of the concerns of local people; whenever the health issue is raised by someone, they are often met with ridicule."

People were also unimpressed with statistics put forward by the county council which showed there have been 422 users of the WiFi service during the past six months. Protesters said there were a similar number of signatures on a petition to have the system removed.

Dave Cornish, Somerset broadband programme manager for the county council, said: "The Glastonbury WiFi project is a pilot scheme and nothing regarding its future is set in stone."

The council has pledged to include the opinions of the local community, the petition and research on the health effects of WiFi in its latest report, which will form the basis of a final decision on the future of the scheme.