Press Statement by Lim Guan Eng in Georgetown, Penang on Saturday, 27th September 2008: 

Penang to hold public forums on the health safety of the Free Wireless@Penang effort and willing to scuttle this project if the WHO can be proven wrong that there are no health risks   

The Penang state government is ready to cancel and abandon the Wireless@PENANG broadband project if there is scientific proof to show that the health of the members of the public will be adversely affected due to the wireless network.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng made the commitment in response to concerns by some NGOs of potential radio frequency radiation causing harm and objected to the wireless broadband project, which is aimed at providing free WiFi connection to the entire state within 24 months.

We regret that the Wireless@Penang effort to make Penang the first WiFi state in Malaysia, has been equated with the proposed RM 25 billion Penang Global City Centre(PGCC) project proposed by the previous government. This new government rejected the PGCC because it did not benefit the people but enriched only one company, whereby the rezoning to “mixcd development” by the previous governemt allowed that company an instant revaluation profit, which has been estimated by NGOs at RM 1.5 billion.

On the other hand, both companies undertaking this wireless effort will neither be paid any money from the state government nor receive any payment from the people of Penang despite investing tens of millions of ringgit,. The Penang Free WiFi service is provided by the REDTone-Hotgate consortium, while the WiMAX subscription-based service is provided by Packet One (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd.

Earlier, the Penang state government has announced the staggered implementation of state-wide wireless broadband services, namely the free-of-charge WiFi and the affordably-priced wireless WiMAX. Both REDTone and Packet One are service providers licensed by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), with approval by government agencies like SIRIM and Malaysian Nuclear Agency.

“So far, we only received negative feedback for parties who quoted various anecdotal reports about Radio Frequency Radiation (RFR) and effects of Electromagnetic Field (EMF) and claimed that WiFi is hazardous to public health,” Chief Minister Lim said.

“However, we have been advised that this wireless technology poses no health risks from the authoritative reports by World Health Organisation (WHO), the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) -- which set the standards for WiFi (IEEE 802.11x) and WiMAX (IEEE 802.16e) -- and the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), which had released many research papers related to the core issue.

“So far, results of these studies give no consistent or convincing evidence of a causal relation between Radio Frequency (RF) exposure and any adverse health effect,” Lim said.

“Prior to the launch of Wireless@PENANG, my officers had also consulted MCMC, the local industry regulator, who pointed us to their adherence to Safety Code 6 of Health Canada, which covers RF exposure compliance of Radiocommunication Apparatus for all frequency bands,” Lim added.

The Chief Minister referred to the conclusions of the WHO of the United Nations in a report that considered 10 years of research, which state that,

“The amount of non-ionizing radiation absorbed by a person’s body from a Wi-Fi station is less than one-fifth that they receive from FM radio and TVs that surround them day and night.

And the level of non-ionizing radiation — radiation such as light or microwaves that do not cause genetic damage — from the wireless computer routers are between 0.002 per cent and two per cent of international safe-exposure guidelines.”

“We were assured that the WiFi and WiMAX apparatus and equipments being used in Malaysia are within the safety guidelines. Having a state-wide wireless network for Internet access, and bringing the service to all segments of the society will help the government attain its vision of transforming Penang into an international city that is a location of choice for investors, destination of choice for tourists and habitat of choice for residents desiring sustainable living,” Lim said.

“Therefore, I don’t see the reason why people should be negative about prevalent modes of Internet connectivity and stand in the way of technological progress meant for the larger public good,” Lim added.

As part of our commitment towards accountability, the chief minister is receptive to public requests for continued consultative and educational sessions with the government pertaining to the implementation of Wireless@PENANG project.

“I have instructed our tech-savvy Member of Parliament Jeff Ooi, who is first Malaysian blogger and author of a book related to knowledge-based economy, to organise a public forum for that specific purpose,” he said.

“For the purpose of public education, we will also make available the various research papers pertaining to public concern over RF radiation that had been wrongly linked to WiFi and WiMAX. And should there be proof to show that the studies made by WHO, IEEE and ICNIRP are wrong, the state government would immediately cancel and abandon the free wireless project at no extra cost to the government ” Lim said.

He added that the public forum, will likely be held after the Hari Raya festive season.

* Lim Guan Eng, Penang Chief Minister Penang & DAP Secretary-General