Boston College Conference on Prospects for a Global Economy

Panel explores challenges of global telecommunications

By Sean Smith

The telecommunications revolution has reached almost every corner of the globe, but efforts to bring information, broadcast and other technology to some markets poses daunting challenges, according to participants in the final panel discussion of the June 3 conference at Boston College.

Introducing the session, titled "The International Impact of the Telecommunication Revolution," moderator Robert Krulwich said the word "telecommunication" deals with so many areas of everyday life that any discussion of it would cover virtually "anything under the sun." Accordingly, Krulwich, economics correspondent for ABC News, led panelists through a variety of hot-button issues to see "who is in and who is out of this revolution."

ABC News Economic Correspondent Robert Krulwich, at podium, moderates the discussion on "The International Impact of the Telecommunication Revolution." Panelists, from left, are Ken Auletta, Denise Caruso, Reed Hundt, Larry Irving, Ivan Seidenberg, John Staudenmaier, SJ, and Bob Wright. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
Panelists suggested that while telecommunications has touched every nation, it has done so unevenly. Assistant Secretary of Commerce Larry Irving, administrator for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said studies show that more people around the world watch television than have ever used a telephone.

In addition, efforts to bring telecommunications technology to such large markets as China and Thailand carries its share of challenges, noted NBC President and CEO Bob Wright and NYNEX Corp. Chairman and CEO Ivan Seidenberg. Wright described the confusion in dealing with the Chinese government over use of video satellite material, for example, while Seidenberg spoke of encountering practices his company considers unethical, but which are almost customary in some countries.

The international availability of video broadcasts can create other problems, panelists noted, such as some nations' perceptions of foreign programming as offensive.

"That's why we have difficulty in communicating a message of openness in some markets," said Federal Communications Commission Chairman Reed Hundt. "We acknowledge a society's interest in programming that supports and promotes its own culture. But that choice can be frightening for some."

New Yorker columnist Ken Auletta, however, said government can only exert so much control over the flow of information, because the Internet, faxes and cellular phones are difficult to regulate.

New York Times columnist Denise Caruso made a similar point during a discussion on whether countries which extol free speech should place limits on forms of information technology in order to combat terrorism or child pornography. Caruso pointed out that terrorists and child pornographers evaded regulation before computers became available.

"Technology magnifies situations that already exist," Caruso said. While the panel generally praised the Internet's academic, commercial and home applications, John Staudenmaier, SJ, professor of the history of technology at University of Detroit Mercy and editor of Technology and Culture, said society should not lose sight of the value of personal interaction or its moral dimension.

"We need to reintegrate ourselves as humans into this process," Fr. Staudenmaier said. "We were a ways away from knowing how to live well in all this."

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