On November 14 1996, Omnipoint, New York City's first digital cellular provider, did open for business, broadcasting from thousands of antennae newly erected on the rooftops of apartment buildings. According to the health authorities, an early flu hit New York City - but not Boston, and not Philadelphia - on about 15 November. The flu was severe and ran a prolonged course, often dragging on for months instead of the usual two weeks.
At Christmas time, the Cellular Phone Task Force placed a small classified ad in a free weekly newspaper. It read: 'If you have been ill since 11/15/96 with any of the following: eye pain, insomnia, dry lips, swollen throat, pressure or pain in the chest, headaches, dizziness, nausea, shakiness, other aches and pains, or flu that won't go away, you may be a victim of a new microwave system blanketing the city. We need to hear from you.' And we did hear from them. Hundreds called, men, women, whites, blacks, Asians, Latinos, doctors, lawyers, teachers, stockbrokers, airline stewards, computer operators. Most had woken up suddenly in mid-November, thinking they were having a stroke or a heart attack or a nervous breakdown, and were relieved to know they were not alone and not crazy.
Later, I analysed weekly mortality statistics, which the Centres for Disease Control publish for122 US cities. Each of dozens of cities recorded a 10-25 per cent increase in mortality, lasting two to three months, beginning on the day in 1996 or 1997 on which that city's first digital cell phone network began commercial service.
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