PTC 2021 Report

BY TOM COOPER

On Jan. 20, 2021, Doreen Bogdan-Martin, director of the Telecommunication Development Bureau of the International Telecommunication Union, reported that 88 countries and 3.7 billion people are still without digital technology. This digital divide and the many other ethical issues described below were addressed by scholars, lawyers, regulators, and industry experts at the conference known as “PTC ’21.”

Many other ethical questions pertaining to security, diversity, equity, privacy, and regulation were posed and debated at the 43rd annual Pacific Telecommunications Council conference (PTC, ’21) entitled “New Realities” held from January 17-20, 2021, entirely online for the first time.

The Pacific Telecommunications Council is a global professional organization with over 3,500 member representatives from over 45 countries and 300 member companies. Given that PTC has over 7,900 participants from these countries and companies, and many guests as well, it is not surprising that 916 professional communicators, lawyers, regulators, academics, and others from 43 countries and territories participated to discuss topics regarding the economics, engineering, impact, policies, laws, and infrastructure of the information technology industries within the countries surrounding the Pacific. Most topics (cf. issues) were discussed taking into account the atmosphere of “multiple concurrent technological and social revolutions” epitomized by the new multi-cloud environment within the context of the global pandemic.

Despite the bleak digital divide numbers that Bogdan-Marten presented, she did not paint a dismal picture. Rather, she and others pointed to the many less expensive and more sustainable technologies being developed to bring half the world online. Others pointed out that instead of seeing the worst case due to the COVID crisis, one could see global quarantining as a means to create far larger networks such as Zoom to provide more types of connectivity.

For those who are longing for digital technology, there are new AI tools such as those developed to assist the undernourished to grow more and different crops. Bringing the internet to developing countries also means offering them very inexpensive libraries and education since online data centers do not require actual physical book centers nor schools. Moreover, there are now less expensive telehealth options in regions with few medical resources. And farmers in remote areas may now also use hand-held digital devices which instantly convey best practices in countering specific agricultural problems. Indeed, many other humanitarian technical devices are being developed at lower costs.

Despite these improvements, huge problems persist. For example, in developing countries only one in seven women have access to the internet. And in new locations where the internet is being introduced, there may be serious problems with insufficient electricity, maintenance, and training. Moreover, in the “developed” wired world, there are both assets and accelerating ethical problems associated with telecommunication expansion and transformation. Increasing COVID-19 penetration, technological outreach, and increase in demand brings speed-up and digital expansion, often at a rate which causes ethical shortcuts. So on the one hand the multiplication of end-points, applications, and the “things” of IOT increases a huge number of new possibilities for hackers, e-pirates, and bombers … and thus ongoing growth spawns far more ethical cases related to security and privacy. But on the other hand such growth also creates and increases revenue streams, markets, and connectivity for corporations, governments, educators, and humanitarian groups.

Many other ethical issues were discussed. Industry leaders such as Dan Caruso, Bevan Slattery, Bill Barney, Bill Stein, and Keri Gilder raised questions about “big tech’s” stand on free speech issues such as the cancelling of a president’s Twitter account and the temporary removal of Parler from the internet. In the U.S. what are the limits of the First Amendment’s protections? In all countries to what extent may communication companies determine where to draw the line without violating the constitutions and policies of governments?

Some of these problems regarding security, privacy, COVID impact, and the related FCC headaches were discussed in a panel on “The Future of Mobile: Regulatory Challenges, Competition, and Customer Needs and Demand” featuring these speakers:

Moderator:
Richard Taylor (The Pennsylvania State University)
Presenters:
Fernando Beltrán (University of Auckland)
Rob Frieden (The Pennsylvania State University)
Sobee Shinohara (Kddi Corporation)
Nami Yonetani (Foundation for Multimedia Communications)
Moinul Zaber (University of Dhaka and United Nations University)

Another panel entitled “User Needs: Applications for Health, Seniors, Education, and Supply Chains” considered such ethical issues as the privacy records of the elderly (especially those who may no longer effectively monitor their own rights) and some positive applications of new technology in health care and via blockchains. These presenters were featured:

Moderator:
Francis Pereira PhD. (University Of Southern California)
Presenters:
Nir Kshetri (University of North Carolina-Greensboro)
Kumiko Miyazaki PhD. (Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University)
Fei Yuan (Beijing University Of Technology)

One panel called “Digital Transformation in Europe and Current Effects of COVID-19” brought news of many “green light” (positive) ethical developments including the greater prevention of cyber-fraud, better development of cryptography and cyber-security, and the use of AI to increase the quality of sleep and of independent living and thus of the overall quality of life. The participants were:

Moderator:
Nico Grove (Kapena)
Presenters:
Helmut Kohl (Kapena)
Thomas Langer (Kapena)
Lena Lickteig (Kapena)

Thomas Koehler

Sandra Thomas

Further questions of protection and safety were voiced in a panel entitled “The Impact of COVID-19 and Industry Implications” which featured these presenters:
Moderator:

Sherrese Smith, Partner, Paul Hastings LLP, USA

Panelists:

Oliver Camplin-Warner, CEO - International, Telstra, Hong Kong SAR China

Mo Katibeh, EVP-Chief Product & Platform Officer, AT&T Business, USA

Nicola Palmer, Chief Product Development Officer, Verizon, USA

One of the most important ethics topics of PTC 2021 pertained to the wisdom of diversity and inclusion in the telecommunication industry and related jobs and programs. Ethical issues of fairness, racism, gender equity, sexual orientation bias, and discrimination were highlighted in a panel entitled “Diversity and Inclusion as a Business Imperative in Our New Reality.” Some of the most important points made included:

· diversity is both a moral and legal responsibility,

· it is important to honor the many types of religious holidays employees and customers celebrate, not just those of the majority,

· the workforce and administration should mirror the communities they work within, and

· every employee should be able to say with genuineness “I’m safe, I belong, and I matter.”

It was argued that the CEOs and VPs of companies must model this behavior, must provide workshops which build inclusive listening skills, should create totally diverse search and hiring committees, and might introduce special events such as “days of understanding” in which the entire group learns what it is like from insider perspectives (e.g., from employees and customers of specific faiths, races, ages, and disabilities, or, for example, parents of newborns and veterans returning to the workplace). The presenters were:

Moderator:

Tara Giunta, Partner, Paul Hastings LLP, USA

Panelists:

Najwa Attiga, General Counsel and Head of Compliance, Emirates Investment Authority, United Arab Emirates

Bruce Owen, VP Employee & Community Impact, Equinix, USA

A new topic entitled ESG (Environment, Social, and Governance), also moderated by senior lawyer Tara Giunta, focused upon how companies are currently addressing human rights issues such as whether their partners and supply chain vendors are humanely treating their workers and using sustainable ingredients in their products. An especial emphasis was given in this panel to the importance of companies living their espoused values, fulfilling specific sustainability goals such as reducing their carbon footprint, providing full transparency about all dealings with corporate partners regarding human rights practices, protecting privacy and non-discrimination, and making certain that these values are modelled at the top.

One ethical question pertained to how far a company may go regarding collaboration with clients and suppliers who may have a history of human rights violations or a low standard for accountability. In this regard it was heartening to hear panelists recommending that telecom companies be “true to purpose not just to profits” and place a premium upon implementing high standards of integrity. The participants in the ESG panel were:

Moderator:

Tara Giunta, Partner, Paul Hastings LLP, USA

Panelists:

Caroline Griffin Pain, General Counsel, Colt Technology Services Co., United Kingdom

Nicole Karlebach, Global Head, Business & Human Rights, Verizon Partner Solutions, USA

Carol Tate, Associate General Counsel & Director of Ethics and Legal Compliance, Intel Corporation, USA

Finally, many ethical issues closely related to national and international policies were discussed in the panel entitled “Global Policy Shifts, Local Implications.” Panelists presented a primary emphasis on connectivity. If the 3.7 billion without internet service are to have access, then devices, information packages, and thus overall connectivity must be affordable. The timeless question of agency was also raised—who should be controlling and regulating this expanded connectivity—governments? businesses? The representatives of end-users? a mixture of these? The panelists were:

Moderator:

Patricia Paoletta, Partner, Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis LLP, USA

Panelists:

Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director, Telecommunication Development Bureau, International Telecommunication Union, Switzerland

Takuo Imagawa, Director-General, Telecommunications Business Department, Telecommunications Bureau, MIC, Japan

Milica Pejanovic-Djurišic, Ambassador of Montenegro to UN, Government of Montenegro, USA

Robert Pepper, Head of Global Connectivity Policy and Planning, Facebook, USA

All of these issues discussed at PTC ’21 have become far more complicated within an international context given the multitude of cultural traditions, governments, and policies, and the differing degree and scope of “consumer rights” in each country. Security and privacy have become huge concerns as witnessed by the scandals surrounding Facebook, Google, Equifax, and the hacking of the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.

Further information about PTC ’21 and other PTC events and materials may be obtained at www.ptc.org, via e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and by writing Pacific Telecommunications Council, 914 Coolidge Street, Honolulu, HI 96826-3085.

  • Tom Cooper is Professor of Visual and Media Arts at Emerson College. The Association for Responsible Communication which he founded was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and he has received many awards and scholarships. Cooper taught at Harvard, where he graduated magna cum laude, and at Temple University, the University of Hawaii and at U. of Maryland. A former assistant to Marshall McLuhan, he is the author, editor, or co-author of seven books and over one hundred academic and professional published articles on media ethics and related topics. Musician, poet, playwright and Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do, Cooper was consultant to the Elders Project which included Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, and Kofi Annan.