FCC changes phone radiation guidance

The Federal Communications Commission has removed a recommendation from its Web site that advised consumers shopping for a cell phone to consider the amount of radiation a handset emits.

Kent German Former senior managing editor / features
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
Kent German
2 min read

The Federal Communications Commission has removed guidance from its Web site that advised consumers shopping for a cell phone to consider the amount of radiation a handset emits. The revisions, which first appeared last week, were not formally announced nor do they appear to be the result of an official change in policy.

On its revised consumer fact sheet the agency says that considering a handset's specific absorption rate (SAR)--which denotes the amount of radio frequency energy (RF) a phone emits--may be misleading because, among other things, the actual SAR for a phone will vary depending on the conditions of use.

"The variation in SAR from one mobile device to the next is relatively small," the fact sheet says. "Consumers should remember that all wireless devices are certified to meet the FCC maximum SAR standards, which incorporate a considerable safety margin." Though the fact sheet also says that the agency "does not endorse the need" to limit RF exposure, it acknowledges that users can do so by using a speakerphone or headset and texting instead of making a voice call.

SAR measurements have grown in visibility in recent years as consumers and some public health advocates have raised the debate over whether cell phones are truly safe. Currently the FCC tests every cell phone sold in the United States to ensure that its SAR falls under the federal maximum of 1.6 watts per kilogram.

In its coverage of the revision that posted yesterday, the Washington Post quoted an unnamed source who said the policy change was not made at the request of the wireless industry's lobbying arm, the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA).

Earlier this year, the CTIA filed suit against the city of the San Francisco after the board of supervisors passed legislation requiring cell phone retailers to list the SAR at the point of sale (the group also said it would move its autumn trade show away from San Francisco starting next year). At the time, the group argued that the law would "potentially mislead consumers with point of sale requirements suggesting that some phones are 'safer' than others based on RF emissions."

Despite the FCC's revision, and the CTIA's stance that studies show no link between long term cell phone use and an increased cancer risk, the debate is not going away anytime soon. Indeed the scientific evidence remains inconclusive and until we know more, CNET will continue to advise concerned users to choose a phone with a low SAR in our cell phone radiation charts.