Round Two: CTIA Fights Another Local Cellphone Ordinance in Court

Roughly two years after ending a similar fight with the city of San Francisco, CTIA: The Wireless Association has sued the nearby city of Berkeley over an ordinance that it says would require the industry to falsely claim that cellphones put users at risk of radiation exposure.

One of the country’s biggest progressive bastions is giving the wireless industry a big headache.

That said, CTIA: The Wireless Association is not taking the accusations about its primary product lying down.

This week the association filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Berkeley, California, over a new ordinance that will require wireless-phone companies to tell consumers that cellphone radio frequencies could expose them to radiation. The ordinance, passed late last month by the Berkeley City Council and set to go into effect by the end of June, notes that the government recommends that cellphones be held “a small distance away from the body” to avoid such radiation risks.

“If you carry or use your phone in a pants or shirt pocket or tucked into a bra when the phone is ON and connected to a wireless network, you may exceed the federal guidelines for exposure to RF radiation. This potential risk is greater for children,” the notice states [PDF].

However, CTIA called the city’s assessment of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) opinion unscientific and said in its lawsuit that the ordinance, Requiring Notice Concerning Radio Frequency Exposure of Cell Phones, “violates the First Amendment because it will require CTIA’s members to convey a message to which they object.”

“That compelled speech is not only scientifically baseless and alarmist, but it also contradicts the federal government’s determination that cellphones approved for sale in the United States, however worn, are safe for everyone,” the lawsuit states, according to Courthouse News Service.

The FCC, for its part, has said the risk that cellphone radiation can cause health issues, if there is any, is small, The Hill reports.

Battle of the Bay Area

It’s not the first time that CTIA has fought a local regulation on cellphones in the Bay Area. The association successfully fought a law passed by the city of San Francisco in 2010 that required mobile-phone retailers to post signs outlining the specific absorption rate of radiation produced by every type of cellphone, as well as the risks of radiation and ways to minimize them. The two sides settled in 2013 after a long, drawn-out court battle that, at one point, led CTIA to threaten that it would no longer hold its major tradeshow in the city.

The San Francisco ordinance actually went further than the Berkeley one does, according to those advocating for the latter, who say they took the language for the ordinance directly from cellphone manuals.

One of the key figures who helped write the ordinance, prominent Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig, said he would defend the ordinance pro bono.

“I believe Berkeley has a right to assure its residents know of the existing safety recommendations,” Lessig told the San Francisco Chronicle.

The new Berkeley, California cellphone regulations warn against putting phones inside of pockets. (iStock/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!