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RNZ reports two more cell towers were attacked early today:

Police are investigating after two fires in Ōtāhuhu and Favona in the early hours of this morning.

Towers were also damaged in Māngere earlier this week and another in Papatoetoe late last month.

Elsewhere an RCG 4G cell tower was attacked in Northland.

It’s no longer the case of a one-off attack. Clearly something serious is going on.

Critical infrastructure

If New Zealand was at war, an attack on critical infrastructure would be regarded as treason. If a hostile foreign power was responsible for sabotaging critical infrastructure, it might not be an act of war in itself, but it would be a serious diplomatic incident.

In a sense, this is what is now going on with the so called anti–5G protesters. People around the world are being wound up, fed a careful diet of lies and misinformation in order to trigger this kind of behaviour.

There’s no question some of this propaganda is, at some point, serving or even directly controlled by state controlled organisations. It is quite deliberate. You can speculate which states might be behind the messages.

Target

New Zealand may not be in their direct sights. It’s unlikely anyone sitting in a foreign capital is high-fiving a colleague because a cell tower was taken out in Ōtāhuhu. We are probably collateral damage in a slow-motion underground cold war being fought elsewhere.

That doesn’t absolve the people who start and feed these rumours and misinformation campaigns. It does go part way to explaining it.

There’s little likelihood any information campaign organised by New Zealand’s government or telcos can counter this propaganda. For a start, the people who believe these conspiracy theories would be unwilling to take, say, Vodafone’s word on anything to do with 5G.

Moreover, any information campaign would naturally be spread by mainstream conventional media. Conspiracy theorists are allergic to mainstream media.

That’s if they see it at all. They are far more likely to believe the rants of red faced presenters promoting dubious health products on You Tube, other social media on underground channels.

It doesn’t help that high profile commentators work so hard to undermine reasonable government actions and messages in other areas.

This goes some way to encouraging a climate where an attack on critical infrastructure might feel more like fighting for freedom than destroying essential infrastructure that helps everyone.

No easy answers

As a first step, it’s probably a good idea to install low cost cameras at cell sites to monitor suspicious activity.

This is hardly another step on the road to tyranny… using security to protect private property is reasonable and well established.

Where things get more dangerous and contentious is dealing directly with misinformation. Incitement to commit a crime is a criminal offence.

Sure, there is often a thin line between incitement and legitimate free speech. But anyone who is, say, sharing information on how to attack a cell tower or broadcast an attack is clearly committing a crime.

Beyond that I don’t have anything to contribute. There are no easy answers. As I said in an earlier post about cell tower attacks, it’s not as if we don’t have other, bigger problems to deal with at the moment.

Shenandoah RCG tower

During the Covid–19 lockdown the Rural Connectivity Group switched on 29 new sites. The new sites connect about 2000 homes and businesses to fixed wireless broadband and increase the reach of the mobile networks. This includes mobile phone coverage for a further 110 km of state highway.

The RCG’s recent burst of activity means there are now a total of 92 sites.

RCG sites are part of the second phase of the government’s Rural Broadband Initiative.

Joint venture

The RCG is a joint venture between New Zealand’s three mobile carriers: Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees. It builds 4G towers in parts of the country that might not otherwise get cellular coverage. Another part of its job is to reduce the number of mobile dead zones on main roads.

RCG - rural connectivity group cell tower

RCG partner companies share the infrastructure. Towers have one set of access hardware and one set of antennae. Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees all offer their services from each tower. The towers are also open for wireless internet service providers or Wisps to use.

Rural Connectivity Group footprint increased by one third

Much of the work for the new towers was done before the nation went into lockdown. Nevertheless, increasing the footprint by a third at this time is an achievement.

A post on the RCG website quotes RCG chief executive John Proctor who says:

“At the time of the lockdown we had a large number of sites around New Zealand close to completion which we needed to secure and walk away from. Being granted Essential Service status means our team has focused on getting built sites ‘on air’ providing immediate service to as many rural communities as possible.”

Eventually the Rural Connectivity Group will run at least 400 towers. It will deliver broadband to around 30,000 homes and businesses in more remote parts of the country. Those numbers could rise if government finds more funds to fill in coverage gaps.

This morning’s CommsDay reports on the dangerous and destructive turn Covid–19 conspiracy theories have taken in the UK:

“BT has revealed that 39 engineers have been verbally or physically assaulted – including threats to kill – over conspiracy theories that links the spread of Covid-19 to 5G. In total, 11 BT EE mobile masts have also been destroyed or damaged by arson – 33 from all UK operators.”

Also from the UK:

“This week, we’ve seen telephone poles wrapped in barbed wire to stop our engineers doing their job. Those poles carry fixed phone lines, they’re nothing to do with mobile…”

New Zealand towers have been attacked. As with the UK, the attackers are indiscriminate. In most cases, the attacked towers don’t even have 5G cellular.

I spoke to the Rural Connectivity Group which owns the tower that was attacked in Northland.

The RCG’s job is to fill in the gaps in cellular coverage, mainly in rural areas and along state highways. Its towers are all 4G and 3G.

Many are considered vital services and might be the only connection some communities have with the rest of the world.

The Northland tower was on the ground, about to be hoisted. RCG says it was racing to get a number of towers operational as the country went into lockdown, this would have been one of them.

If I hadn’t been attacked people in a relatively remote part of the country would have had broadband and voice calling to help see them through the lockdown. The kids could take part in online school lessons.

The damage amounts to, perhaps as much as $200K. It’s covered by insurance, but, no doubt future premiums will be higher. That takes money from a limited pool set aside to beef up rural telecommunications. One or more communities could now go without thanks to these attackers.

Where does this all come from?

I was at a hospital appointment a week or so ago and was approached by a conspiracy theorist, he didn’t know I report on these things, who gave me the full story. It’s nonsensical, but every counter argument or fact was met with things along the lines of “well they would say that…” or “you don’t believe that do you?”.

The attacks have put mobile carriers on a high state of alert.

Spark and Vodafone are on to the problem. The following is from a statement Spark issued last week:

“Spark has been working with Police about threats made to some of our cell sites. Since the end of March, there has been vandalism, including arson attempts at a few of our cell towers.

“While the damage was fairly negligible, one event caused an outage of mobile and wireless broadband services in the surrounding area. The incidents have all been reported to the Police who are investigating, and we are working to monitor the sites and protect our people.

“We share the broader industry’s outrage over acts of vandalism against critical infrastructure during a pandemic – a time when connectivity is more important than ever.”

And boy is that infrastructure critical right now.

Vodafone says it has also had threats and is constantly monitoring its site. It says the police has the GPS locations of all cell sites and has stepped up patrols watching for suspicious activity.

Vandalised Rural Connectivity Group cellphone site may have been mistaken for 5G tower.

Northern Advocate reporter Peter de Graaf writes in Covid 19 coronavirus: Far North cell tower attack linked to Covid-19 hoax at the NZ Herald website:

The destruction of a cellphone tower north of Kaitaia is thought to be related to an online hoax linking 5G phone networks with the Covid-19 coronavirus.

The 4G tower on private farmland at Waiharara was a few days away from being turned on when it was irreparably damaged in an arson attack late last month.

The incident comes just as Northlanders’ reliance on telecommunications has increased due to the Covid-19 lockdown, with businesses and schools forced to move much of their activity online.

Attackers have damaged cell phone towers around the world in recent months. In this case the tower is not even a 5G site, there are no 5G towers north of Auckland.

The people behind the attacks think 5G technology is responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic. That’s disappointing but hardly surprising, a global industry exists stirring up fear and playing on people’s ignorance of technology and biology.

Vital infrastructure

The attacks are going to make life harder still for everyone. Cell towers are vital infrastructure. In many parts of New Zealand they are the only practical telecommunications technology. They allow people to work from home. Students use it to keep up with lessons. Anyone in trouble needs cellular to call for emergency services.

It’s not as if telecommunications companies don’t already face a huge amount of pressure. Demand for services is at an all time high. Revenue is falling, in part because they no longer earn lucrative roaming fees. Earlier today 2degrees announced it is cutting 120 jobs.

There’s no question shady forces are behind the 5G conspiracy theories. It’s a heady mixture of foreign governments playing mind games with western rivals and raving attention seekers looking to win influence.

The saddest thing is there is no way to reason with the people who think 5G is killing folk. They dismiss every counter argument. Logic doesn’t play a role. Fear is the winner and right now emotions are on an edge. Tipping people over into a form of madness isn’t that hard these days.