Many ethical questions pertaining to security, diversity, privacy, and regulation were posed and debated at the 42nd annual Pacific Telecommunications Council conference (PTC 2020) entitled “Vision 2020 and Beyond” held from January 18-22, 2020, in the Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel in Honolulu. Over 2,530 professional communicators, lawyers, regulators, academics, and others from over 70 countries and territories participated to discuss topics regarding the economics, engineering, impact, policies, laws, and infrastructure of the information technology industries within the countries of the Pacific rim. Most topics (cf. issues) were discussed within the context of what was called “multiple concurrent technological and social revolutions” epitomized by the new multi-cloud environment.

Questions included, “Are cell phones hazardous to your health?” A few years ago the World Health Organization took a stand cautioning users against the possibility of brain damage. But what was the latest aggregate data on this issue as reported at PTC 2020?

Similarly, we have been advised not to build homes next to cell towers and power generators due to possible radiation poisoning or other dangers. But is there any wisdom in this advice? Gary Kim, an industry analyst and consultant to IP Carrier, took the position that, although there is no risk to humans from cell towers, cell phone radiation damage is possible and is a matter of phone distance from the head. When held against the brain, mobile phones still pose a risk and users should be cautious regarding both the length and number of calls, not just the proximity to the ear.

Other questions asked at PTC 2020 included, “Why should there be limited availability and high prices for broadband in rural and indigenous communities which restrict opportunities for their residents to participate in the digital economy?” “Should not allocation of the spectrum for new services such as 5G be governed by a framework that enables small, rural, and regional operators to invest in networks that support rural broadband?” And “why not make certain that new entrants and small providers be eligible to use spectrum for 5G services through spectrum sharing, micro licenses, or other means?” These were among the ethical issues raised by scholars. lawyers, regulators, and industry experts at the conference.

One panel which considered the “digital divide” questions posed above was entitled “The Gap Between Research, Policy, and Practice” which featured these speakers:

John Curran, President & CEO, American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), USA (Moderator)

Anis Hamidati, Doctoral Student, Communication and Information Science, University of Hawaii at Manoa, USA (Presenter)

Heather Hudson, Professor Emerita and Affiliate Professor, University of San Francisco and University of Alaska Anchorage, USA (Presenter)

Ioane Koroivuki, Regional Director, Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Thailand (Presenter)

Rob McMahon, Associate Professor, University of Alberta, Canada (Presenter)

Muhammad Rashid Shafi, Chief Executive Officer & Director, Sync and Secure Technologies, Pakistan (Presenter)

Elizabeth Fife, Associate Professor, Technical Communication, Viterbi School of Engineering, University of Southern California, USA (Co-moderator)

Ayushi Tandon, Doctoral Student, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, India (Co-moderator)

Another panel which addressed economic and resource discrepancies was entitled “Data Driven ICTS for Healthcare and Addressing the Digital Divide” and featured these speakers:

Zahirul Alam, Founder & Executive Director, Integrated Development Foundation, Bangladesh (Presenter)

Wayne Buente, Associate Professor, University of Hawaii, Manoa, USA (Presenter)

Christina Higa, Co-Director, Pacific Basin Telehealth Resource Center, SSRI, University of Hawaii, USA (Presenter)

Francis Pereira, Associate Professor, Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California, USA (Presenter)

Larry Martinez, Professor Emeritus, Dept. of Political Science, California State University, Long Beach, USA (Moderator)

A third panel emphasizing the need to overcome economic disparities took a more “green light” (problem-solving) approach for giving resources to the “have nots” and was entitled “Strategies to Empower Development: Improving Financial Opportunity and Equality for the Urban and Ultra-Poor.” The speakers were:

Nir Kshetri, Professor, University of North Carolina-Greensboro, USA (Presenter)

Hoan Nguyen, Doctoral Student & Graduate Fellow, University of Southern California, USA (Presenter)

Wonkyung Rhee, Assistant Professor, Center of Global Education and Discovery, Sophia University, Japan (Presenter)

Diana Rojas - Torres, Assistant Professor, Entrepreneurship & Innovation, Universidad de La Sabana, Colombia (Presenter)

Catherine Middleton, Interim Director, Ted Rogers School of Information Technology Management, Ryerson University, Canada (Moderator)

It is clear that in these discussions of “haves” and “have nots” that, whatever the beneficent intentions of some providers, challenges exist for island, remote, impoverished, and marginalized communities to keep up with the ongoing digital revolution. Ethically, questions arise about fairness, equal access, racial and gender discrimination, cultural imperialism, and justice in the increasingly digitally divided world.

One of the most important ethical topics of PTC 2020 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 and Strategic Asset.” The panel featured these speakers:

Gina Haspilaire, VP, OpenConnect Partner Engagement, Netflix, USA (Panelist)

Amy Marks, Chief Executive Officer, XSite Modular, USA (Panelist)

Tara Giunta, Partner, Paul Hastings LLP, USA (Moderator)

One aspect of diversity discussion is the emerging role of women to provide equal and substantial leadership in the worlds formerly—and still in some sectors—dominated by men. Tara Giunta arranged several events in which professional women could discuss important issues and network.

Each year the law firm Paul Hastings organizes a panel which focusses upon legal, policy, and ethical issues often moderated by Sherrese Smith. The presenters for 2020 were:

Mark Buell, Regional Vice President, Internet Society, USA (Panelist)

Andrew Erber, Associate, Paul Hastings LLP, USA (Panelist)

Rob Frieden, Pioneers Chair & Professor, Telecommunications and Law, Penn State University, USA (Panelist)

Sherrese Smith, Partner, Paul Hastings LLP, USA (Moderator)

One of the most important ethics debates—security vs. privacy—is often discussed at PTC. This year a major panel on cybersecurity was entitled “Cornerstone of Cybersecurity: Active Cybersecurity Information Sharing Powered by International ISACS” which offered these speakers:

Scott Algeier, Executive Director, IT-ISAC, USA (Panelist)

Nobuhiro Hikichi, Secretary General, ICT-ISAC, Japan (Panelist)

Seiji Ninomiya, Deputy Director-General for ICT R&D and Cybersecurity Policy, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC), Japan (Panelist)

Joseph Viens, Sr Director Govt. Affairs, Charter Communications, USA (Panelist)

David Villyard, Deputy Director, National Communications & Coordination Branch (NCC), CISA Integrated Operations Coordination Center, DHS, USA (Panelist)

Koji Nakao, Distinguished Researcher, National Institute of Information and Communications Technology, Japan (Moderator)

Tetsuo Yamakawa, Chairman, PTCJ, Japan (Moderator)

A second cybersecurity panel focused upon the Internet of Things and was entitled “IoT & Cybersecurity: New Challenges and Solutions.” These speakers provided their expertise:

Peter Coffee, VP for Strategic Research, Salesforce, USA (Panelist)

Lance Crosby, Chairman & CEO, StackPath, USA (Panelist)

Scott Shackelford, Chair, Indiana University-Bloomington Cybersecurity Program, USA (Panelist)

Tom Simpson, Chief Operating Officer, Cincinnati Bell Inc., USA (Moderator)

All of these issues have become far more complicated within an international context given the multitude of policies, cultural traditions, and governments, and the 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 U.S. presidential elections.

The PTC program was committed to providing examples of “green light” (cf. “doing well by doing good”) ethics involving the pro-social humanitarian uses of technology, not just “red light” danger ethics issues such as invasion of privacy, disruption of security, e-fraud, and conflict of interest.

Further information about PTC 2020 and other PTC events and materials may be obtained at, 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.


Resources for Teaching Ethics

A growing list of case studies suitable for use in media and communication ethics courses can be found at the Media Ethics Initiative website (here). The Media Ethics Initiative is based in the Center for Media Engagement in the Moody College of Communication at the University of Texas Austin.