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The FCC is the Bully Boarding the School Bus: The Eyes are (Not) Having It

by Patricia Burke of Safe Tech International  

Excessive screen time has been directly linked to eye damage. In addition, reading in a moving vehicle is associated with motion sickness, dizziness, and nausea. Yet the Federal Communications Commission is funding installation of Wi-Fi on school buses, purportedly so that children can complete their homework.  Don’t fall for it.

When Paying Attention Saved a Busload of Kids

About a year ago, Business Insider reported, A 7th grader who saved his school bus after the driver passed out was the only one not distracted by his phone, report says A Michigan seventh grader guided his school bus to safety last month after its driver passed out. Dillon Reeves jumped to action because he was not on his phone, his father told CBS News. Other students on the bus told CBS that they were either listening to music or playing games. “What else are you going to do when you don’t have a phone? You’re going to look at people, you’re going to notice stuff. You’re going to look out the window,” Dillon’s father, Steve, told CBS. “It’s a very powerful lesson, maybe a change-the-world kind of lesson.”

May 14, 2023, the Guardian reported, Not having cellphone allowed US boy to save runaway bus from crashing While other students on the bus were engrossed with their devices, Dillon Reeves noticed the driver in distress and guided bus to safety. “A Michigan boy who recently stopped a school bus from crashing after the driver lost consciousness leapt into action because he was the only passenger not distracted by an electronic device, according to a new report from CBS. On Sunday, two weeks after seventh-grader Dillon Reeves regained control of a school bus when its driver became unconscious, the network reported that the boy’s parents’ refusal to provide him a cellphone paid off in a big way.”

NPR’s version of the story omitted the fact that other children were distracted by devices.

Metaphorically, much of society is like the more than 60 children who were focused on their devices, while one child was paying attention.  We need to look up from our devices.

Background: Authorizing Funding for Wi-fi on School Buses

On June 26, 2023, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel launched an initiative to expand the E-Rate program to install Wi-Fi hotspots off campus, including on school buses and in students’ and library patrons’ homes.

In response to the FCC’s ruling, Matthew and Maurine Molak filed a petition for review in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Mr. and Mrs. Molak are the founders of David’s Legacy Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to kids’ online safety and advocacy against cyberbullying. 

Sen. Cruz has introduced bipartisan legislation to limit children’s access to social media at school by requiring schools receiving E-Rate funding to prohibit access on subsidized services, devices, and networks. While existing law requires schools collecting E-Rate subsidies to certify that software is in place blocking or filtering access to obscenity, child pornography, and other harmful sexual content, there is currently no provision requiring schools to block access to distracting and addictive social media apps or websites.- Source

The FCC’s Decision Is Both “Dangerous” And “Unlawful”

Wireless Estimator reports, “U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member Ted Cruz, along with several Republican senators, has filed an amicus brief in the Fifth Circuit, opposing the Biden administration’s move to extend the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) E-Rate program to include funding for Wi-Fi on school buses.

The lawsuit, titled Molak v. FCC, has been instigated by parents worried about the potential for their children to access social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram unsupervised during bus rides to and from school. Senator Cruz criticized the FCC’s decision as both “dangerous” and “unlawful,” asserting that it would promote unsupervised access to addictive social media apps, which he believes are detrimental to the youth. “The FCC’s decision to fund children’s unsupervised access to social media on bus rides to and from school is both dangerous and unlawful. I’m glad to support other concerned parents in opposing this reckless rule, and I thank my colleagues for joining me in our effort to keep kids safe,” Cruz stated. [] Furthermore, the senators criticize the FCC for not having conducted adequate analysis or oversight regarding Wi-Fi’s effectiveness and educational impact on school buses. They express concerns that the lack of rigorous assessment might lead to wasteful federal spending and fail to address potential negative effects on minors, such as exposure to inappropriate content and cyberbullying.”

The Filing: https://dockets.justia.com/docket/circuit-courts/ca5/23-60641

Senator Cruz Press Release: https://www.commerce.senate.gov/2024/4/sen-cruz-leads-amicus-brief-opposing-biden-s-effort-to-subsidize-tiktok-on-school-buses

Senator Cruz Amicus Brief: https://www.commerce.senate.gov/services/files/CDBA9457-177E-4EC3-8A04-358D1C2E6C84

Creating a Mismatch Between the Sensory System, the Environment, and the Brain: Cellphones and Screens

Research regarding the harm to children posed by unsupervised access to the internet and social media is mounting.

The entire relationship between children and tech needs a review. There are a number of other very good reasons to oppose school bus Wi-Fi. There are commonalities between virtual reality technologies and reading while in a moving vehicle, both of which are being viewed as economic drivers.  But both can induce stress and scramble the body’s sensory systems, including eyesight and posture, with the potential for long-term, permanent damage.

How much further will the illusion be sustained that this is beneficial to anyone, but especially children?

Industries and their regulators no signs of slowing down, viewing obstacles as opportunities and assuming that they can mitigate any challenges with more technology, while outsourcing costs of harm to health and the environment.

Reading in a Moving Vehicle:  Dizziness and Nausea

In June of 2023, Business Insider reported, Why reading can make you carsick, according to an expert.

“[] Insider spoke with neuropsychiatrist Dr. Ooha Susmita.

Reading in the car causes a ‘sensory mismatch.’ The sickness is caused by a disconnect between the systems responsible for someone’s balance and spatial orientation or, as Susmita explained, “a conflict between the information received by their eyes and the sensations felt by their inner ears.”

Your brain thinks you’re moving in the car because it is perceiving motion through your inner ear, while your eyes are focusing on a stationary object, Susmita said.”

“This creates a sensory mismatch, as your eyes are sending signals that you are not moving, in contradiction to your inner ears, which detect motion and changes in direction,” she said. “This sensory conflict, leading to a disruption in the body’s normal sense of balance, can result in symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, sweating, and sometimes, vomiting.

Focus on the Eyes: Myopia

“Nearsightedness is a vision condition in which close objects look clear but far objects look blurry. The medical term for nearsightedness is myopia. Myopia happens when the shape of the eye — or the shape of certain parts of the eye — causes light rays to bend or refract. Light rays that should be focused on nerve tissues at the back of the eye, called the retina, are focused in front of the retina instead. [] Nearsightedness is a refractive error. This problem happens when the shape or condition of the cornea — or the shape of the eye itself — causes an inaccurate focusing of the light passing into the eye. Nearsightedness usually results when the eye is too long or oval-shaped rather than round. It also may result when the curve of the cornea is too steep. With these changes, light rays come to a point in front of the retina and cross. The messages sent from the retina to the brain are perceived as blurry.”Source

“Smartphones and Tablets: A Myopiagenic Double Threat”

Myopia rates are increasing worldwide and attributed to device use.

The GreenMed article The Childhood Myopia Epidemic: Screen Time to Blame; Red Light To the Rescue reports, “Smartphones and Tablets: A Myopiagenic Double Threat Two recent systematic reviews implicate smart devices like phones and tablets as risk factors for childhood myopia. The first combined data from over 50,000 participants across 33 studies. More total screen time raised a child’s odds of myopia by 77%.3 Smartphone use alone increased risk by 26%. The second review focused specifically on tablet use. More daily tablet screen exposure associated with 40% higher myopia odds.4 Experts hypothesize why these portable screens pose problems. Their small size encourages closer viewing distances, increasing focus demand. Whatever the mechanism, with the average 8-10 year old spending over 4 hours a day on screens,6 myopia progression seems inevitable for many.

In addition, “Blue Light: An Overlooked Culprit, The high-energy blue light emitted by device screens carries particular concern. Blue light may impair retinal neurotransmitters influencing eye growth.5  Animal research shows blue wavelength exposure triggers retinal changes that spur axial elongation and myopia development.7 Experts now implicate blue light’s disruption of circadian rhythms in altering ocular growth regulation.8 Reducing blue light exposure could provide a dual benefit – decreased eye strain and myopia protection.“

Myopia: Not Just a Matter of Eyeglasses, Long Term Risks

The Royal College of Ophthalmologists 2023 Changing paradigm in the management of childhood myopia reports, “The prevalence of myopia has been on the rise in recent decades. Global myopia prevalence is projected to increase to 49.8% and high myopia prevalence to 9.8% in 2050 if no effective interventions are undertaken to control its onset and progression. []Myopia is a major public health concern worldwide due to its signifcant impact on ocular health and the economy. Each additional one dioptre (D) of myopia is associated with a 20%, 21%, 30% and 58% increase in the risk of open-angle glaucoma, posterior subcapsular cataract, retinal detachment and myopic maculopathy respectively [2]. These pathologies signifcantly increase the risk of visual impairment and blindness in a myope’s lifetime. In fact, degenerative myopia is a major cause of irreversible blindness in many Asian and some Western countries.”

Nonchalance Towards Eye Harm/Myopia?

The 2018 paper, Parental attitudes to myopia: a key agent of change for myopia control?  concluded, “Parental attitudes to myopia were typically nonchalant in relation to health risk. This is of particular concern given the impact parents have on children’s behaviour and choices with respect to such risk factors, demonstrating an acute need for societal sensitisation to the public health importance of myopia.’ 

“Of 329 parents, just 46% considered that myopia presented a health risk to their children, while an identical number (46%) regarded it as an optical inconvenience. Myopia was also, but less frequently, considered an expense (31% of parents), a cosmetic inconvenience (14% of parents) and, by some, as a sign of intelligence (4% of parents) 76% of parents recognised the potential of digital technology to impact the eye, particularly as a cause of eyestrain and need for spectacles. Only 14% of parents expressed concern should their child be diagnosed with myopia.”

More on Eyesight, Screens, & Internet, Wall-Eye vs Myopia

Wall-eye is defined as “having one or both eyes that seem to point to the side, rather than straight forwards.” Under extreme stress, an organism is hyper-vigilant to the external environment. The outer eye muscles overpower the weaker inner eye muscles, so the child cannot bring the eyes together to focus on the written page. 

Healthy eyes are designed by nature to move around the entire field of vision.  Modern technology, as designed by industry and embraced unknowingly by the public, is causing the opposite imbalance of wall-eye: myopia. The eyeball becomes misshapen due to excessive inward focus.  

It’s not just the eyes. The body engages in a stress response when tasked with unnatural or unsafe stimuli. Alterations in focus are also associated with lack of awareness of the breath and the body, including posture. When poor technology choices alter brain function, as well as changing the actual structure of an organ, the tipping point has been breached.

Eyesight vs. World Wide Web of Stressful Images, the Forgotten History of Blackboards vs. Chalkboards and “After Image”

Restaurant and bar owners often place A-frame blackboards on the sidewalk, listing daily specials and enticing customers. Yet, in schools across the country, chalkboards are green, not black. Why? Wikipedia has a listing for blackboards that includes descriptions of chalk and erasers, and compares blackboards and dry erase boards. The two disadvantages of blackboards listed are chalk dust and the screeching of fingernails on the board.  The page notes, “Green porcelain enamel surface, was first used in 1930, and as this type of boards became popular, the word “chalkboard” appeared. In the US green porcelain enamelled boards started to appear at schools in 1950s.”

While looking up at a black surface with white letters (the blackboard) to a white paper with black letters, some children could not see the page, due to a phenomenon known as afterimage.   Wikipedia explains: Cone cells or cones are photoreceptor cells in the retinas of vertebrates’ eyes. They respond differently to light of different wavelengths, and the combination of their responses is responsible for color vision. Cones function best in relatively bright light, called the photopic region, as opposed to rod cells, which work better in dim light, or the scotopic region. An interesting effect occurs when staring at a particular color for a minute or so. Such action leads to an exhaustion of the cone cells that respond to that color – resulting in the afterimage. This vivid color aftereffect can last for a minute or more.”

Colors in Nature vs Hyper-Stimulating Videos That Are ‘Loud, Bright, Dramatic and Dizzying

Human eyes are designed to view colors found in nature, including green.  Switching from a blackboard to a green chalkboard enhanced children’s health, lowered stress, and reduced afterimages caused by the contrast between black and white.  

Another course correction is needed now.

Additionally, flashes of light impact the brain differently than static pages. The internet, in its current manifestation, is a jungle of stimuli in a state of mismatch with physiology and well-being.  

The recent Ofcom report, Children’s Media Lives 2024 Ten Years of Longitudinal Research states,”Now, most children get their own smartphone when they are nine or 10 and a quarter of three to four-year olds have one. And on these phones, in this study we see children are mostly consuming media alone and via social media. In 2014, children reported to Ofcom they were spending 12 and a half hours a week online [ ] The trend is towards heightened intimacy [ ] The children’s attention is being caught by hyper-stimulating videos that are loud, bright, dramatic and dizzying.

Screens vs. Paper: Learning

2021 research validated that “students who took long-hand notes performed better on conceptual questions than those who used took notes on laptops and were better at recognising words than those who used keyboards, and students who read from paper had better comprehension that those who read from screens.” (Umejima K, Ibaraki T, Yamazaki T, Sakai KL. Paper Notebooks vs. Mobile Devices: Brain https://ehtrust.org/in-historic-decision-federal-court-finds-fcc-failed-to-explain-why-it-ignored-scientific-evidence-showing-harm-from-wireless-radiation/Activation Differences During Memory Retrieval. Front Behav Neurosci. 2021 Mar 19;15:634158. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnbeh.2021.634158/full

Speaking of Bullies: The FCC

In 2021, District of Columbia Circuit ruled in the historic case EHT et al. v. the FCC that the December 2019 decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to retain its 1996 safety limits for human exposure to wireless radiation was “arbitrary and capricious.”  The court’s ruling identified lack of protection of children as a major concern.

“The court found the FCC ignored numerous organizations, scientists and medical doctors who called on them to update limits and the court found the FCC failed to address these issues:

impacts of long term wireless exposure

impacts to children,

the testimony of people injured by wireless radiation,

impacts to wildlife and the environment

The FCC and the industry have ignored the court’s remand.

Safety Testing’ on an Inanimate Adult-sized Model

One issue that concerned the Court is that fact that cellphones are tested on an inanimate model that corresponds to an adult military recruit’s head, for 6 minutes.  The testing protocol actively discriminates against women and children. Bus rides are longer than 6 minutes.

Image courtesy Floris Freshman 

Weaponizing outdated science, the FCC has failed to address reported health harm caused by exposures below the thermal threshold, which has resulted in disability in a portion of the population, including children.

Regarding the placement of poorly sited wireless infrastructure, many communities across the country have been bullied by the wireless industry, enabled by the FCC. (Read an explanation about the Telecom Act of 1996 here summarized by Physicians for Safe Technology.)

School Bus Wi-fi vs. Neurovestibular Research

In 2023, Scientific American reported, Why does reading in a moving car cause motion sickness? Timothy C. Hain, a professor of neurology, otolaryngology, and physical therapy/human movement science at Northwestern University Medical School, and Charles M. Oman, director of the Man Vehicle Laboratory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and leader of the neurovestibular research program at the NASA National Space Biomedical Research Institute, explained:

“In order for a person to estimate his location, the brain combines information from a variety of sources, including sight, touch, joint position, the inner ear and its own expectations. The inner ear (see image below) is particularly important because it contains sensors for both angular motion (the semicircular canals) and linear motion (the otoliths). These sensors are called the vestibular system. Under most circumstances, the senses and expectations all agree. When they disagree, however, conflict arises and motion sickness can occur. Motion sickness usually combines elements of spatial disorientation, nausea and vomiting.

Consider the situation when one is reading in the back seat of a car. Your eyes, fixed on the book with the peripheral vision seeing the interior of the car, say that you are still. But as the car goes over bumps, turns, or changes its velocity, your ears disagree. This is why motion sickness is common in this situation. If you have this sort of reaction it is usually helpful to stop reading and look out the window. 

Promoting providing access to Wi-Fi on school buses, ignoring the effects of screens on eyesight, and especially ignoring the stress on the body’s exquisite attempts to retain balance in a vehicle in motion while reading are all indicative of society’s accelerating spin – further into a degenerative cycle.

On April 29, Daisy Greenwell reported, The Revolution Has Begun in the UK, 75,000 UK parents have come together to give their kids a smartphone-free childhoodJon Haidt wrote, “The UK reached its tipping point in February 2024. Parents are up in arms about what addictive, distracting, and omnipresent digital technology is doing to their children at home and at school. They’re not going to take it anymore.” 

For Americans, regardless of one’s political orientation, one place to start the necessary course correction is by saying “No” to the FCC, by opposing grant funding for the installation of Wi-fi in school buses.  

It is time to stop throwing children’s health, including eyesight and mental well-being, under the bus.

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