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Virus-linked cell tower attacks threaten NZ services

Attacks on New Zealand mobile networks have become so severe that they may affect services, operators have warned.

Arsonists have carried out 14 attacks on cell towers in the past six weeks, including ten assaults in the biggest city Auckland, industry body Telecommunications Forum (TCF) said in a statement Friday.

The TCF noted that the arson attempts are coming at a time when three operators were responding to "significantly increased demand" as a result of the COVID-19 lockdowns.

All three operators have been hit by the vandalism, causing damage and disruption, it said.

The arson attacks began in early April and are almost certainly connected to a worldwide populist conspiracy blaming the coronarivus on 5G.

Nearly 80 UK cell towers have been set alight, while Canadian police have arrested two people over a series of arson attacks.

Tony Baird, head of wholesale and infrastructure for Vodafone NZ, warned that the arson attacks "can have real connectivity impacts."

It could lead to "reduced mobile phone and Internet coverage in an area with a damaged cell site, which is a real issue, particularly in South Auckland. While we've been able to keep customers connected so far, each attack has a cumulative negative impact."

TCF Chief Executive Geoff Thorn said: "We are concerned that telecommunications infrastructure is becoming the target of criminal damage. Not only is this highly dangerous, it also has the potential to cause huge disruption to local people, schools and businesses."

The Prime Minister's chief science advisor has launched a website to challenge the misinformation, but the level of community mistrust appears high. A survey by consumer advocacy group NZ Compare in December found 46% of New Zealanders were concerned that 5G might affect human health, Newsroom reported.

Neighboring Australia has been experiencing anti-5G and anti-lockdown demonstrations, with protestors in Melbourne last weekend claiming an outbreak at a local abattoir was caused by a nearby mobile tower.

In a report on 5G issued Tuesday, an Australian parliamentary debunked the virus theories but acknowledged "a vast amount of misinformation about the safety and impact of 5G" was affecting community opinion.

Axel Bruns, a professor in digital media research at Queensland University of Technology, told Guardian Australia the pandemic was bringing together differing conspiracy theory groups – anti-vaxxers, anti-5G and anti-lockdown protestors.

"Any group with pre-existing conspiracy theories has projected their conspiracy theories on to the corona crisis in some form as well," he said.

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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