San Francisco Adopts Revised Law On Labeling of Cell Phone Radiation

The Telecommunications Law Resource Center is the most comprehensive reference and news platform for communications law, covering broadcasting, cable, broadband, telephony and wireless;...

SAN FRANCISCO—San Francisco adopted a revised cell phone radiation notification ordinance July 26 that sponsors argue is a consumer right-to-know service.

The wireless industry is poised, however, to continue litigation filed over the last ordinance adopted a year ago requiring point-of-sale notification.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted the revised measure that eliminates requirements for retailers to research and post radiation levels for each device and references to SAR. Sellers instead are required to post warnings explaining that cell phones emit radiofrequency energy absorbed by the head and body. Retailers also would provide each wireless customer a free fact sheet about possible health issues from cell phone use that explains how to reduce exposure.

The measure now goes to Mayor Edwin Lee, who has 10 days to sign the law, which would become effective after the city Department of the Environment adopts regulations through the regular posting and hearing phase.

FCC Action.

The ordinance said that, should the scientific community or the Federal Communications Commission “develop a new metric to measure the actual amount of radiofrequency energy an average user will absorb from each model of cell phone,’’ the city's Environment Department will make recommendations to supervisors for amendments.

The specific absorption rate is a value that corresponds to the relative amount of radiofrequency energy absorbed in the head of a user of a wireless handset, according to the FCC. The FCC limit for public exposure from cell phones is 1.6 watts per kilogram. The FCC website lists specific absorption rate (SAR) values for individual phones.

“With no explanation, the proposed San Francisco ordinance assumes the FCC's national standards are not sufficient,’’ John Walls, spokesman for the CTIA-Wireless Association said in a statement.

Opposition Cites ‘Mom-and-Pop' Phone Stores.

CTIA and retailers complained that the ordinance imposes additional burdens and fines on business owners.

“During these difficult economic times, it is inconceivable that Supervisor John Avalos and his colleagues on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors would pass an unnecessary yet harmful ordinance that potentially opens mom-and-pop cellphone retailers to civil liability for forgetting to distribute a mandated brochure,’’ Walls said.

The amended ordinance retains the fine schedule for failure to comply of as much as $100 for a first violation, $250 for a second, within a 12-month period— and $500 for a third and subsequent violation within a 12-month period.

Opposition, More Litigation.

CTIA-The Wireless Association sued in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to block implementation of the law requiring retailers to list SAR values (CTIA-The Wireless Association v. City and County of San Francisco, N.D. Cal. No. 3:10-cv-03224, stipulation and order re further stay and briefing, 6/16/11). But the lawsuit was stayed to allow San Francisco to introduce amended legislation. Walls said CTIA will decide how to proceed.

A case management conference is scheduled in San Francisco federal court Oct. 6.

By Joyce E. Cutler

The amendments are available on the Board of Supervisors website, .