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“Once Pandora’s box is open, you can’t put it back in”

“Once Pandora’s box is open, you can’t put it back in”

Tuesday 16 July 2019

“Once Pandora’s box is open, you can’t put it back in”


A Jersey Senator is mounting a battle against 5G, urging politicians to press pause on plans for its introduction over fears the internet network could create “back doors” for spying.

States Members will today debate whether the government should move forward with plans to introduce 5G to the island.

The debate comes after Senator Sarah Ferguson published a proposition asking the Channel Islands' competition watchdog (CICRA) to withdraw its consultancy document entitled ‘5G Spectrum: Draft Statement of Intent’, which recommends that frequencies be allocated to one operator in Jersey or Guernsey.

But Senator Ferguson wants CICRA to hold off until politicians have debated it. “We ought to perhaps look at where we are going before we start giving the frequencies,” she said.

It's one of two challenges the Senator is bringing against the internet network. She has also put forward proposals, which are due for debate in September, that would see any new 5G network “limited to the Hospital and to the business area of central St. Helier and the Waterfront”, with access only provided to the network if it is requested “in writing from the Hospital or a business in that area.”

She says her plans, which follow recent “emergency restrictions” introduced by President Donald Trump in the US, are aimed at protecting the island’s finance industry from security threats.

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Pictured: Senator Sarah Ferguson wants to press pause on the move towards 5G.

A former engineer, Senator Ferguson told Express that she talked about the subject with other engineers whom she said were concerned about the introduction of 5G in the island. “We all said something ought to be done.” 

Senator Ferguson is concerned that if 5G is introduced in the island it could compromise the island’s reputation. “Security is very important to us as well as a regulated finance centre essential,” she said. “We haven’t considered or reviewed the alternatives.”

She is particularly concerned about issues with security as highlighted by what she describes as the “kerfuffle with Huawei” and voiced concerns about “back doors” being open by which information about the island and its industries could be obtained.

She also suggested that 5G was not essential as “most things can be done on 4G.” “It’s better to be the second or third imitator, we don’t want to be the first and find ourselves sorting out all the problems,” she said.

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Pictured: "Most things can be done on 4G," Senator Ferguson said.

The Senator is also concerned that in the absence of a telecoms policy there is no way to check if local companies, especially JT which is owned by the States, fit in with the government’s strategic aims. “The arms-length owned companies are owned by the states and by extension by the tax payers…

"They forget they are risk free because the tax payer carries the risk. What they do needs to be in line with the strategic aims of government and the States.”

“We need a debate,” she added. “Quite frankly if we do not do it now it will be out of our hands. Is it in the best interest of the island? We need to start thinking about it. Once Pandora’s box is open you can’t put it back in. We need to discuss what we want to do instead of being dragged willy nilly without stopping to think.”

On the longer term, Senator Ferguson suggested that the government sell off JT and instead acquire the infrastructure. “JT doesn’t have to be owned by the States. The important thing is to hold the infrastructure. JT currently has a monopoly on infrastructure and other companies do not want to use JT’s fibre network if they can avoid it because the prices are high." 

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Pictured: Senator Ferguson is calling for a debate on a telecommunications policy which the government published 18 months ago.

Senator Ferguson’s first proposition will not receive the support of the Council of Ministers who said they did believe not it provided “the necessary rationale or evidence to be supported” and urged other politicians to reject it.

In comments submitted by Senator Lyndon Farnham, the Minister for Economic Development, Tourism, Sport and Culture, it is noted that the Government of Jersey’s Telecoms Strategy was published in January 2018 and is already being implemented. 

It is also noted that Senator Ferguson’s Report makes a number of points that are “not directly related to the Proposition; that are unsubstantiated and not evidenced; and that have little or no relevance to the questions that the States Assembly is asked to consider.”

“The Proposition and accompanying Report offer little evidence, and appear to have been drafted without consultation with the main stakeholders,” the Council of Minister wrote, adding they had consulted with the three main telecoms providers, two of whom have clearly stated they would not support the proposition which they consider to be flawed."

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