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French govt on defensive after Macron's 5G 'Amish' jibe

·2-min read
Macron came under fire from critics after his jibe against 5G opponents

French officials insisted Wednesday that there was no reason to halt the country's rollout of next-generation 5G mobile telecom networks, following a barrage of criticism from environmental and left-wing lawmakers citing potential health risks.

The debate flared after some 70 lawmakers signed an open letter last weekend urging a moratorium on new 5G antennas, ahead of a key auction of radio frequencies for faster networks this month.

The signatories included Yannick Jadot, a likely Greens rival to President Emmanuel Macron for the 2020 presidential vote.

Macron, eager to cast France as a start-up nation embracing cutting-edge technologies, threw oil on the fire by deriding 5G opponents as wanting to impose "the Amish model."

"France is going to pursue the shift to 5G because it's the shift towards innovation," he told a gathering of tech executives at the Elysee Palace on Monday.

"I'm hearing lots of people tell us that we need to address the complexity of modern problems by returning to oil lamps!" he added.

The jibes infuriated critics, not least because Macron had promised a debate on 5G risks following his "Citizen's Convention on Climate," set up to quell the "yellow vest" anti-government revolt that erupted two years ago.

"The question isn't about 'believing in the Amish model' but believing when someone gives their word," said Julien Bayou, the head of France's EELV greens party.

But environment minister Barbara Pompili said Wednesday that "all scientific reports" indicated there was "absolutely no risk" from 5G.

"A moratorium is something to consider when you don't have the data," she told Europe 1 radio, citing a recent report that says "basically, with the frequencies that will be used by the end of this year, there's no risk as long as we follow the guidelines".

The president of the French telecoms regulator, Sebastian Soriano, also said Wednesday that despite the new concerns, "we think there's no reason to stop 5G".

"However it's urgent that we work on the conditions, the guarantees and the safeguards needed to respond to these concerns," he told Radio Classique.

The government is hoping the first mobile contracts offering 5G connections will be available by the end of the year, and a growing number of phones are being marketed with the technology.

The networks are touted as promising an exponential leap in the amount and speed of wireless data delivery, enabling advances in self-driving vehicles, virtual reality, connected health and more as sensors and servers communicate nearly instantly.