Welcome address: Chris Chapman, President of the International Institute of Communications
Joint conference with the International Institute of Communications (IIC) in association with the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC)
Competing Continents: The pursuit of excellence in electronic communications
Welcome Address of Chris Chapman, President of the International Institute of Communications (IIC) to an International Conference of Telecoms Experts in Riga, Latvia, jointly organised by the IIC and BEREC to celebrate BEREC’s 10th anniversary
25 June 2019
My thanks to the 2019 Chair of BEREC, Mr. Jeremy Godfrey, for his very kind invitation to the IIC to jointly organise and host this conference to celebrate BEREC’s 10th anniversary and the IIC’s imminent 50th year anniversary.
Indeed, for fifty years, the IIC has been the lead platform for policy debate in, firstly, broadcasting, then telecommunications and now, in a world of converging technology, the much much broader ‘digital economy’.
By providing, not the ideas or opinions themselves, but the platform for their unvarnished, apolitical delivery, deliberation and (often) resultant collaboration, the IIC creates a kind of ‘public square’ for the policy-thinking of the day.
To reiterate, we welcome every shade of opinion, and the only requirement is that you are prepared for your arguments to be examined, debated and challenged: especially by those of a different view.
By relentlessly seeking these opinions we hope, firstly, to bring insights to our IIC members: whether reading one of our articles, posts or reports, or attending an international Conference (like this one) or IIC TMF forum or an IIC Local Chapter meeting, our aim is always that you should leave better informed, and with your horizons wider than before. This is something to which I can personally testify through my interactions with the IIC during my decade as Chairman and CEO of the Australian Communications and Media Authority. Within the IIC, we talk of these insights as the first of our three ‘pillars’.
Secondly, we take great pride in our ‘convening power’ – our ability to bring together those with policy responsibility within industry with their counterparts in regulation, with policy-makers in government and with researchers from academia.
In the IIC’s DNA is the belief that the exchange of ideas, and the sharing of best practice, is to everyone’s benefit. And the ‘democratisation’ of these ideas and best practice approaches has never been more important than it is right now in this crazy post-modern world that we seem to be living in: the asymmetrical transnational threats, the economic uncertainty and anxiety over jobs from the spectre of AI, climate concerns (and broader concerns about ‘Global Trust Deficits’ - ‘trust’, a notion I will briefly come back to - and rising World Inequality, real or, just as damagingly, perceived) and paradigm changes in the way the world works and the way we conceptualise families, marriage and communities. And then you layer onto those dynamics domestic political stresses (in the main driven by an (over)abundance of populism, the narrow agendas of minor parties, protracted policy imbroglios, fiscal disrepair. And finally, and I really believe this, a good deal of all ‘the stuff’ that is going on around us right around the world - all the societal and political disorder and asymmetric threats in so many quarters - has arisen from unrelenting digital disruption and its earlier-dated running mate, globalisation.
In summary, the confluence of many issues has been fertile ground for populism and the simplistic solutions profferred for the complex adjustments that will have to be made in society. My favourite expression (and one, ultimately, of a positive note) encapsulates the dimension of these adjustments: “It’s not complicated, it’s just that it’s complex”.
So, to my first love, the regulators: you have increasingly found yourselves over the last decade or so having to adopt different approaches in different circumstances, using a mix of soft and hard powers (and striking a dynamic balance between them), a role imbued with new challenges as the ongoing pre-digital legislation and regulatory frameworks have not countenanced such duality, such dexterity. And so many of these issues arise at a global level, all of which emphasises the importance of global contemplation, collaboration and co-operation ... and underscores the dominant mantra of the IIC: “Global Realities, National Choices”.
When I reflect on the digital players, the consistent overwhelming reaction I, and indeed many many commentators, have is - they need to rebuild trust; society needs to rebuild trust within and across.
Trust is a big deal … societies fall apart without it. As individuals (be it in one’s citizen or consumer/user mode), we have come to irreversibly rely on these new technologies. Today, and without going into any number of everyday examples, technology provides the all-pervasive ‘soft’ infrastructure upon which people have built and manage their lives.
If individuals do not trust others and their historical institutions, they will not engage civically or economically because they believe doing so has little chance of being beneficial to them. This truism is equally applicable within common interest groups, within communities, within nation states and across time-honoured international institutions.
But, as I’ve just alluded to a moment ago, what has come into sharp focus in recent years is that trust is just as crucial for the technology companies. However, there are clear warning signs that these companies are losing that trust… the trust of some of their users and of the politicians. And, for those companies, both are equally dangerous trends if not effectively addressed and on an enduring basis.
Why is this happening? These companies are, as we are all aware, blurring boundaries between private communications, community networking and media — and, as a consequence, the information creation, filtering, and dissemination roles traditionally and reliably played by newspapers, radio, and television is being greatly eroded. In doing this and in usurping that role, these companies are also violating so many norms, leaving many citizens/consumers feeling uncertain, anguish - even betrayed.
As a gross encapsulation, technology companies have perhaps focused too much on trying to mould users around what their technology can do and too little on moulding technology to what humans and societies need to function in an harmonised way. That resulting misalignment has started to cost these companies their user base, their reputations, and eat at that societal glue: trust. I do suspect that over the long arch of time, this declining trust will just be a transitional issue…..for the balance to be redressed, it will have to be.
All of which leads to the really big (indeed, meta) question for all societal stakeholders:
“How do we exploit the exponential growth of the digital economy while (successfully) incorporating into it all the requisite business and government models and the material societal, cultural and political externalities?”
But we won’t solve that today.
Finally, let me conclude with the IIC’s third pillar - as well as learning and exchanging, the IIC platform offers the power of influence. Where else will you find so many ears from different disciplines willing to listen, and so many minds open to hearing? IIC members are all, to use the current jargon, ‘lifelong learners’, and they want to hear what you have to say.
What makes all of this both powerful and unique is that the IIC is fiercely independent, and represents no vested interest. We are trusted, and we are very grateful to BEREC for putting its trust in us as the two organisations co-host this Conference.
Everything we do is paid for by our members, many of whom have been members for a long time. I hope that you, like me, find these benefits worthwhile and worth preserving.
And here’s the soft sell, if you are amongst us and not an IIC member, then I ask you to become part of the growing network of members that will be the IIC of the future as it reaches out into the complexities of the broader digital ecosystem.
My thanks again to you Jeremy - you have been a long-standing contributor to and great supporter of the IIC.