Experts invited by the "Rzeczpospolita" newspaper discussed the social dimension of telecommunications investments. It is both an interesting and at times even "hot" topic, though mainly due to quite commonly spread fake news, which sometimes even take the form of campaigns conducted against the 5G network.
"In some parts of our country's territory, we lack telecommunications investments, that is why we need to create them. This can be done by the state or a private investor, but it is necessary to build tools that will make it possible to meet this challenge," said Krzysztof Głomb, President of the Management Board of the Association of Cities on the Internet (Stowarzyszenie Miasta w Internecie). Unfortunately, as the expert emphasised, in many cases, it is impossible to predict if and when such investments will pay off. And they are needed for the civilisational development of these areas.
"Especially taking into account that there are still 4.2 million digitally excluded people in Poland. This partially results from the long-term lack of access to the network, as well as psychosocial conditions. This is a challenge for traditionally understood investments, but we will surely deal with it," emphasised Głomb.
"Telecommunications investments mean civilisational progress for our society. This is the case all over the world. That is why they are so important. In Poland, progress is being made. The infrastructure is built using public money but also largely using private funds. As a bank, we help entrepreneurs to invest in this type of infrastructure," said Jerzy Kwieciński, Vice-President of the Management Board of Pekao S.A. He recalled that approx. 40 percent of Poland's population lives in rural areas.
"Settlement is scattered. This is the biggest challenge for infrastructure. We cannot reach every corner of the country, and certainly not every household. This means using wireless technologies that require special infrastructure, which is not accepted everywhere or by everyone. On the one hand, we have a financial challenge, because some of the investments are unprofitable, while on the other, there is the issue of mentality, since certain parts of our society, particularly the elderly, believe that telecommunication masts pose a threat," explained Kwieciński. He confirmed that this is a problem, although unlikely to affect the younger generation. At the same time, the reluctance of those who oppose the construction of new infrastructure results in their digital exclusion. It is a vicious circle.
The paradox of fake news on the Internet
"Unfortunately, telecommunications investments still raise questions in some regions of the country, usually in the south. I believe that we have a problem with insufficient education. Perhaps this is our negligence as a telecommunications community, or maybe it is something deeper. All objections and disputes result mainly from the lack of education and knowledge, sometimes even the basic one," said Piotr Kuriata, member of the Management Board of P4 (Play network operator). Interestingly, Play's representative indicated the existence of a peculiar paradox, since many untrue, even conspiratorial theories about investment in telecommunications networks, particularly 5G, are being spread across the Internet. "The Internet, to which you have to have access that is possible thanks to these investments. This is somewhat of a paradox. These false theories are spread because they are catchy, and it is easy to do so online. They fuel fears," claimed Kuriata. He also pointed out that the pandemic has shown the importance of telecommunications infrastructure to a large portion of the population.
"Meanwhile, its construction is and always has been difficult," stated Kuriata. Although, as he added, entrepreneurs and investors strive to make investment processes simpler.
"All we expect is an understanding of how much this infrastructure is important to children's education, health care, as well as public and business services. We are educating people in this regard together with the Office of Electronic Communications. Thanks to these efforts, at least some of that infrastructure can be built and subsequently serve the entire community. Even the part of this community that opposes, for example, the construction of telecommunication masts," said the member of the Management Board of P4.
According to Krzysztof Głomb, it is worth distinguishing two sources of resistance to telecommunications investments. "The first one is ignorance, while the second is the activity of organisations that simply make money from this resistance. This is their modus operandi. The "Stop 5G" campaign, which was directed to all municipalities in Poland, is one of the examples. This caused many negative reactions to investments from local authorities in Kraśnik, Łabowa and Suwałki, among other places. It is necessary to oppose these actions because they are not justified in terms of merit but rather hinder the work of investors," said the expert.
"The public needs to be influenced via education, conversation, and presented real rationales. Joint activities of, for example, the Ministry of Communications, the National Institute of Telecommunications and the Office of Electronic Communications (UKE) bring results. It is also necessary to work with the operators. UKE's role consists in allocating frequencies but we do not want to evade discussion on the impact of the electromagnetic field on human health. The National Institute of Telecommunications built the SI2PEM system, which monitors the strengths of the electromagnetic field, and the legal limits are not exceeded. In many places, its intensity is even far below the acceptable levels," claims Jacek Oko, President of the Office of Electronic Communications.
"We don't even come close to the limits set by legal standards despite many systems in operation. That is why there is plenty of space to install new ones, including the 5G network that everyone is waiting for," agreed Piotr Kuriata. He added that although the discussion about the strength of the electromagnetic field is still ongoing, it has been reduced to the essence thanks to the creation of the SI2PEM system. Jacek Oko stated that it may be beneficial to objectivise the issue. "Not to talk about fears, but rather specifics, mathematical models and measurements," explained the head of UKE.
According to Krzysztof Głomb, it is necessary to provide truthful information, especially about the 5G network, since its introduction constitutes a leap in civilisational development that should not be delayed. In his opinion, we should fight against fake news and the spreading of false information concerning the fifth-generation networks. "In this respect, assertiveness is needed," stressed Głomb.
"The measurement of the strength of the electromagnetic field is a quantifiable aspect, but the human, social dimension should not be overlooked either. Unfortunately, as a society, we want access to the Internet but many people do not think about where this access or the signal comes from. After all, we have three sources of high-speed Internet: the first – optical fibre, the second – LTE and 5G wireless networks, and the third – satellite techniques. It is important to talk about all of them. Indicate that public fears about the negative effects of the investments are misplaced," emphasised the head of UKE. He added that we should also strive to simplify the investment process in the environmental context, as it is currently too cumbersome and lengthy for investors. It is worth shortening it, even though, as Jerzy Kwieciński stated, everything must be done according to the rules and comply with all procedures.