Published: July 24, 2017

Trinidad and Tobago’s 1.3 million residents own 1.6 million cell phones,  yet some of the islands’ smaller communities have poor or no cell phone service.

It’s a problem that Cheryl Johnson, manager of communications, public relations and consumer affairs for the country’s telecommunications authority, would like to solve.

“Telecommunications has grown exponentially in Trinidad and Tobago,” Johnson says. “We keep looking for ideas.” 

Johnson traveled to the University of Colorado Boulder this week to learn how to help tackle these and other telecommunications challenges faced by developing countries. She is participating in the United States Telecommunications Training Institute (USTTI), a public-private partnership between the U.S. government and business leaders of communication technology and broadcast industries. The three-week course is designed to help telecommunications leaders from developing countries improve telephone, television, radio and Internet services. In addition to the weeklong series of workshops and talks held at CU Boulder’s ATLAS Institute, attendees spend a week in Washington D.C. interacting with governmental leaders and a week in California’s Silicon Valley meeting industry representatives.

The CU Boulder course is made possible by an interdisciplinary volunteer collaboration that includes ATLAS; Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology and Entrepreneurship; and the Interdisciplinary Telecommunications Program (ITP). 

Dale Hatfield“The availability of modern communications is essential to the economic and social well-being of all people,” says Dale Hatfield, lead instructor for the CU Boulder USTTI program. While developing countries sometimes consider restricting Internet access due to lost revenue from legacy telecom industries, USTTI underscores the economic and social benefit of policies that expand access to as much of the population as possible, he explains. 

This week roughly 30 telecommunications leaders are attending one of two USTTI courses at the ATLAS Institute and ITP.  ITP’s class will introduce technologies and processes used for identifying and protecting networks from cyber attacks. The ATLAS class will cover alternative managerial and regulatory responses that can facilitate expanded access to telecommunications during times of rapid technological changes.

ATLAS has hosted the course since 2007 for USTTI, but the course taught at ITP is new this year.

“As a home for interdisciplinary research, teaching and policy, it’s natural that ATLAS be involved in USTTI,” says Jill Dupré, associate director of ATLAS and a co-instructor who coordinates the USTTI class.

The courses feature guest lectures by CU Boulder professors Brad Bernthal, associate professor of law, CU Boulder Law School; David Reed ITP faculty directory; and Phil Weiser executive director of the Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship. In addition, nine outside experts are brought in, including Bryan Tramont, managing partner of Wilkinson Barker Knauer, LLP, one of the nation’s leading communications law firms, Doug Sicker, department head of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University and June Taylor, executive director of the Colorado Department of Personnel & Administration and state personnel director. In addition, CableLabs, headquartered in Louisville, traditionally offers USTTI students a tour of its facilities.

More than a course

CU Boulder’s involvement with USTTI began when Michael Gardner, U.S. ambassador to the World Radio Conference and now chairman of the USTTI, recommended that Hatfield organize the class in place of communications giant Verizon Communications. Hatfield, who first joined CU Boulder more than 30 years ago, is a senior fellow for the Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology and Entrepreneurship, and an adjunct professor for the ITP, who served with the Federal Communications Commission as both chief technologist, and chief of the Office of Engineering and Technology. 

Since Gardner started USTTI in 1982, the nonprofit has graduated more than 9,500 communications officials from 171 developing countries, and those graduates are a boon to U.S. foreign policy, says Hatfield. “Because of USTTI, when our government attends international communications meetings, we have friends from all over the world,” he says. “At U.N. agencies, votes are often built upon personal relationships among delegates from different countries. When we want to promote U.S. policy, having those relationships is vital to the process.”

Nauman KhalidThere’s also a personal diplomacy that goes on during class, with Muslims working alongside Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and members of other faiths, he says.

Nauman Khalid said that in his native country of Pakistan, 132 million out of 180 million residents subscribe to a cell phone service, while only about half a million residents have a landline. The rapid growth of cellular users has led to new challenges and opportunities, and USTTI has been very helpful on many levels, says Khalid, director for the Pakistani government’s Telecommunication Authority’s approvals division. In particular, USTTI has recently helped his department streamline the approvals process for new technology, which keeps importers from trying to bypass the system and sell products in the “grey market.”

“Dale (Hatfield) is a great asset,” Khalid says. “Hearing him is a treat for all of us. The topics are very relevant to what we are doing. I hope to transfer this knowledge to my colleagues when I go back.”