Dear ITS Colleagues:

International Telecommunications Society (ITS), Online Conference, 14-17 June 2020 – Opening Remarks of ITS Chair, Stephen Schmidt

Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening – depending on where you are in the world right now!

Thank you for taking the time to be with us today for the opening of our conference.
You are taking part in a very exciting and thoughtfully-conceived event – one that will extend over 3 1⁄2 days, across multiple continents, and across multiple time zones and bring together 180 registrants (authors, presenters, participants) to present 60+ papers, to the broader world.

I am very grateful to Drs. Erik Bohlin, Jason Whalley and Brigitte Preisl for their goodwill and initiative in making this event possible.

For the next 3 1⁄2 days, you will hear (and present and discuss) papers bearing on very contemporary issues, including:

  • fake news and misleading advertising on digital platforms;
  • the decline of traditional media/the rise of online news;
  • 5G and broadband networks – diffusion, adoption, digital divides;
  • data flows, privacy and trust

The corona pandemic underlines the urgency and relevance of these topics for the public at large.

Under corona, the availability and performance of communications networks have become matters of vital concern to the state, to citizens and to the economy overall.

Under corona, in a very real and fundamental sense, the availability and performance of networks and platforms have become matters of life and death:

  • In several East Asian countries, world leading public health outcomes are correlated with the availability of rapid, hyper-scaled testing and tracing capabilities, driven by mobile networks
  • Looking further around the world, to the degree that societal, governmental and economic functions continued during COVID-19 — they did so over, and because of, robust wireless and wireline networks and associated online platforms.
  • Because of these developments, important debates are playing out within, and across nations, on subjects like:
  1. access to broadband networks for marginalized communities and geographies (digital divides),
  2. fundamental tensions between collective and individual rights, and between public health imperatives and privacy imperatives, raised by contact tracing initiatives.
  3. The control of false, misleading or objectionable content on social media platforms.

The corona crisis has elevated the urgency, visibility and impact of communications scholarship, policy and practice. As a community, you are doing very important work. Please keep going. And thank you for sharing your research through ITS.

Earlier this year, ITS made a decision to voluntarily suspend all of our in-person events, in 2020, in advance of widespread public health and travel restrictions. We are hopeful – and actively planning for – a time, next year and beyond, when we can be together again, face to face at our events. To that end, the Gothenburg conference is currently (re)scheduled for 20-23 June, 2021.

During this time of travel and assembly restrictions, we are accelerating shorter format online events (webinars) – to allow ITS to contribute more rapidly, and relevantly to emerging policy questions and challenges. You can expect at least four additional, short format webinars, this year, from ITS, and a continued cadence of online events next year, to complement any in-person meetings.

We welcome your proposals for online events!

My first thank you is to all of the authors, presenters and participants. In a very real sense, you are the co-creators of ITS conferences. You supply the content, intellectual vitality and positive experience. Thank you.

My second thank you is, again, to Drs. Erik Bohlin, Jason Whalley and Brigitte Preisl and our host institution, Chalmers University – for the huge amounts of effort, time, creativity and goodwill required to create this event on very, very short notice. Thank you.

My final thank you is to Scott Marcus and his panel members for their very interesting panel, on data flows, that will open our conference. Thank you for your initiative and goodwill.

I would like to leave you with a question:
The French philosopher and sociologist, Bruno Latour, in a recent essay about Coronavirus, encourages us, inter alia, to think about the positives – the opportunities – that we might take away from this moment of lockdown – things that we will continue, things we will stop forever.

He wrote:
“…if everything has stopped, and all cards can be put on the table, they can be turned, selected, triaged, rejected forever, or indeed, accelerated forwards” [emphasis added].

I would encourage you to reflect on what insights, from this period of lockdown, can be surfaced, continued and incorporated into your scholarship to drive new directions, new insights and new urgency.

I look forward to the unfolding of these answers in the coming months and years.

Enjoy the conference!