September 19, 2013

Verizon CEO Stresses Importance of Communications Technology

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Communications technology will be integral to society in the future, Verizon Communications CEO Lowell C. McAdam ’76 said to more than a hundred audience members at Cornell’s Statler Hall Thursday.

McAdam, who is also the chairperson of Verizon, spoke at the University’s 32nd annual Robert S. Hatfield Lecture. Each year, the University selects a Hatfield fellow from individuals representing the corporate sector to deliver the address, according to a University press release.

McAdam took the audience back to the beginnings of the information age, saying foundational technologies — including ethernet, the cell phone and Apple’s first computer, the Apple I — were being developed during his time at Cornell. The first cell phone, he said, was only available in 1983, when one could buy a cell phone from Motorola priced at $3,900 and weighing 31 ounces.

“The iPhone that many of you have in your pocket today weighs about seven ounces. Anyone want to trade in for a 31-ouncer?” McAdam said.

Today, technologies seem to be emerging at an even more rapid pace than ever before. McAdam attributed the rate at which communication technologies scale, the rapid emergence of social networks and Moore’s Law — a theory that predicts that the number of transistors on a computer chip will double every 18 months — to the growth of the communications technology market over the years.

“So what does this combination of scale, connectivity and exponential change really mean? To put it simply, the future impact of the information revolution will be bigger, faster and more far reaching than anything we’ve seen today,” McAdam said.

The rapid growth of communications technology is evident at Verizon, where, over the past five years, the company has invested $80 billion in bolstering its infrastructure. By 2017, mobile devices will account for more Internet traffic than wired devices, McAdam said, adding that mobile data usage has been increasing by 66 percent each year.

McAdam said he believes Verizon contributed to this growth with its 4G LTE network. He added that Verizon is very committed to using technologies to benefit the world, listing examples of how his company uses technology to make advances in healthcare, energy and education.

Some of the technologies that can make the world a better place are already available to the public, McAdam said.

“Sometimes, all it takes is to help people make better use of the technology they already have in their pockets,” he said.

For example, Verizon is working with one program that uses smartphones to remind patients when to take their medicine. Still, McAdam said he believes the future of healthcare involves biometrics, which track one’s vitals and send them over a secure Internet connection to doctors.

“We think technology has the potential to drive down costs and improve outcomes for patients,” he said. “We’re working to give doctors and patients the technology tools they need to take charge of their health.”

After McAdam’s lecture, members of the audience asked questions regarding a variety of topics, including the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs, net neutrality — the idea that all Internet data should be treated equally and that users should not be charged differently based on content they consume — and what McAdam’s thoughts are on the iPhone 5S.

When asked about a previously top secret court order that was published by The Guardian in June revealing the National Security Agency required Verizon to hand over data for phone records, McAdam said his company was just abiding by the law, despite his personal desire to not hand over the records.

“When you’re in a business like we are, you have licenses from the government that provide certain services. Part of their right under the legislative system is to subpoena any records they want, and you have no choice but to comply with them. That’s what we’ve done,” he said. “We are the largest telecommunications provider to the United States government, and you have to do what your customer tells you.”

On a lighter note, McAdam said he was honored to be selected as this year’s Hatfield fellow, despite his initial disbelief about receiving it.

“When David Skorton asked me about this award, I literally turned around because I assumed that he must have been talking to someone standing behind me versus me,” he said.

Previous Hatfield fellows include former Chief Executive and Chairman of Citigroup Sanford Weill ’55, former CEO of General Electric Jack Welch.