Another Call to Ban Wi-Fi in Schools

by Brad Moon | February 20, 2012 7:00 am

The debate over children and Wi-Fi has heated up again after a teacher’s union in Canada, representing 45,000 teachers in more than 1,400 Ontario schools, released a position paper calling for a stop to Wi-Fi installations in classrooms.

According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the Ontario Catholic Teacher’s Association cited World Health Organization (WHO) research warning of a possible link between cancer and the radiation emitted by wireless devices, while calling for a halt to Wi-Fi installations in schools. The union wants any new schools being built to be hardwired, with no wireless networking.

The issue of Wi-Fi and health has been a volatile one as hotspots have become commonplace and an increasing number of homes and schools are equipped with wireless routers. In 2011, a school in British Columbia made news by shutting down its Wi-Fi over safety concerns, and in the same year a committee of the Council of Europe (a policy-making organization with 47 member states) released a report that included the recommendation that Wi-Fi be banned in schools. In the U.S., petitions from parent groups have circuited to ban Wi-Fi around children, and organizations such as Citizens For Safe Technology have actively campaigned against the technology.

A WHO report released in 2006 on base stations and wireless technologies concluded that: “There is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak RF signals from base stations and wireless networks cause adverse health effects.” However, the organization’s most recent position, released in 2011, has to been to classify Wi-Fi as a Class 2B carcinogen, concluding that it couldn’t rule it out as a potential health hazard. Health Canada’s position is that when it comes to children and Wi-Fi, “no precautionary measures are needed,” and both the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continue to say there is no scientific link between Wi-Fi and any health problems.

More confusion than consensus

While there is still no official stance in Canada or the U.S. against Wi-Fi in schools, the issue is clearly not going away. While reverting to hardwired networks is simple enough in computer labs where equipment is clustered together and not expected to be portable, the possibility of eliminating Wi-Fi in classrooms or lecture halls is much more problematic.

In particular, efforts by Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN[1]) and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL[2]) to push adoption of e-textbooks and tablets, including the iPad, into the educational setting would come to a virtual stop if Wi-Fi were to be pushed out of schools. While the ethernet wire is inconvenient, a laptop can plug in for an Internet connection. An iPad without wireless connectivity, however, is completely cut off from the Web.

Given the lack of conclusive evidence —not even WHO is coming out and saying outright that Wi-Fi is dangerous— don’t expect the ongoing rollout of the technology to stop, although some school boards may decide against adoption. People are simply too addicted to the convenience, and with the ubiquity of mobile devices, a world with limited Wi-Fi hotspots is difficult to imagine.

In the meantime, there are a growing number of companies, such as Omega WiFi, that have picked up on the unease and are marketing products purported to offer protection from Wi-Fi emitting devices —whether these devices work as advertised or not, they will probably see growing demand.

As of this writing, Brad Moon did not own a position in any of the stocks named here.

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