In a First Report and Order, Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Notice of Inquiry released at the end of March (ET Docket Nos. 03-137, 13-84; FCC 13-39; "Wireless Order") in a proceeding begun in 2003, the Federal Communications Commission continued its comprehensive review of its rules, policies and procedures governing radiofrequency radiation and limits on exposure to human beings.

This effort extends to many areas of responsibility, including definitions of the "human extremity" (the pinna or outer ear is one), determination of the specific absorption rate ("SAR") as a metric for measurement, achieving equal treatment of RF-emitting sources based on their physical properties rather than regulatory service classifications, proper treatment of medical implant technology, and a host of other broad inquiries including a possible complete reassessment of current rules. According to the item, the intention is not to change the thresholds for existing exemptions, but to generalize them so that the FCC no longer will require service-specific exemptions. Although the Order and NPRM's details may deserve look for affected manufacturers, the most far-reaching questions are reserved for the NOI:

"Th[e Notice of I]nquiry focuses on three elements: the propriety of our existing standards and policies, possible options for precautionary exposure reductions, and possible improvements to our equipment authorization process and policies as they relate to RF exposure." (Wireless Order at ¶5)

It is not the case that the FCC determined that dangers existed to personal use of a myriad of new wireless devices, but only that technology and usage has changed so dramatically since the rules were last reviewed in 1996, it was time to do so. (Remember when hysterical claims surfaced two decades ago that six-foot C-band satellite dishes were alleged to cause excessive radiofrequency radiation to persons notwithstanding that those Earth Stations emitted no radiofrequency energy of their own -- they were merely receivers.)

Noting that there is "a lack of scientific consensus about the possibility of adverse health effects at exposure levels at or below…existing limits," the Commission emphasizes that it is not a "health and safety agency" and, hence, will defer "to other organizations and agencies with respect to interpreting the biological research necessary to determine what levels are safe."

More to come, but no one knows when.