MOUNTAIN VIEW - Hecklers complaining about alleged health risks of wireless transmissions disrupted a speech Thursday by the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View.
Tom Wheeler, a former executive for cable and cellular phone trade associations who became FCC chair on Nov. 4, had just started a speech about national telecommunications policy when a heckler stood up.
"Hey, Tom, how many people have to die from brain cancer before the federal government puts warning labels on cellphones?" said a man in a suit jacket who appeared to be in his 20s.
The man kept talking despite requests to stop from museum president John Hollar who had just introduced Wheeler in the museum's second-floor Hahn Auditorium at the noon event, sponsored by the Commonwealth Club of California and recorded for broadcast by KQED-FM.
Two museum staff people pulled the heckler from the crowd and led him out of the room as he yelled "Profits! Profits!"
In response, Wheeler turned to Hollar and said, "John, it's great to be here," to laughter from the audience.
Before his speech ended, three more hecklers, one who left by herself and two others who had to be taken out of the room, would interrupt Wheeler.
Wheeler said the country is about to enter a historic "fourth great network revolution" of equal importance to the printing press, the railroad and electronic communications that began with the mid-19 century telegraph.
"This fourth network revolution is the one you all here in the (Silicon) valley are leading, will continue to lead," Wheeler said.
One part of the new revolution is the transition from the old-fashioned public switched telephone network, including copper landlines regulated like a public utility, to the all-Internet protocols over the less-regulated Internet, Wheeler said.
The spectrum of frequencies that are underused by television broadcasting, the 600MHz band, will be put up for auction to the highest bidders in mid-2015, Wheeler said.
The auction would give incentives to TV stations to make money by selling some of their spectrum for more "flexible uses" such as mobile services that increasingly need the new space for more customers, Wheeler said.
"We are attempting something that has never been done before, but with our original spectrum auctions 20 years ago," he said.
A new concept of federal regulation will be to get rid of the old analog approach of proportioning bandwidth on the broadcast spectrum for specific uses, such as TV, telephone, and government uses, each needing their own "chunk of spectrum," Wheeler said.
"One of the revolutions through which we are now working is the reworking of analog spectrum concepts to the new digital realities," he said.
Wheeler said he decided to lay out his thoughts about the FCC's role in shaping U.S. policy during in the latest network revolution in two speeches, the first in December at Ohio State University and the second at the computer museum today.
He said at Ohio State that the FCC is the "public representative" of the network revolution, and needs to promote and protect competition in the marketplace and a "network compact" allowing accessibility to all, reliable network connections, consumer protection and public safety and security.
Wheeler started to say that in Silicon Valley today, he wanted to talk about "the next step in describing my regulatory philosophy" but was again interrupted by a heckler.
"How long are you going to experiment with people's lives without real safety standards in place?" yelled a man as security people went to remove him. "It's time you told the American public the truth. Wireless causes cancer. It will kill you. You don't give a damn."
"Yes, he does," a man in the audience said.
Wheeler thanked the man who answered the heckler and said he would be going "off script."
"You're right, I do (care)," he said. "We have a responsibility. One of the things that our agency is doing is receiving the scientific information from scientific agencies to be able to set standards at acceptable safety levels. We've historically done that, we will continue to do that, because safety is of paramount concern to all of us."
Dondi Gaskill, a 63-year-old Aptos resident, was one of a half-dozen protesters holding signs outside the museum warning of health risks from radiation in wireless transmissions.
Gaskill said that the industry is in denial about the technology's links to cancer and other maladies.
"France has taken wireless out of their libraries to save their children, why aren't we doing that?" Gaskill said.
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