Remarks on Signing the World Communications Year Proclamation

December 16, 1982

The President. Thank you very much. We're delighted to welcome all of you to the White House, and it's especially nice to have you with us here at Christmastime. I'm sorry that Nancy isn't here, but as you look around, you'll see that she's here with us in spirit. She's been in charge of that department.

You've noticed, I'm sure, that this is the room where we hold the press conferences. I don't mind telling you I'm just as content to be here with your group. [Laughter] At least with you there won't be any failure to communicate. [Laughter]

Many outstanding leaders from different areas of the communications industry are with us here today. And as you know, our administration has asked the private sector to carry the ball for the United States in world communications for the year 1983. We're very grateful for your leadership and initiative.

I know that Bill Ellinghaus [Chairman of A.T. & T.] has put together a national council, with representatives from industry, labor, academia, the media, and professional and trade associations, to implement the goals for the United States. The aim of World Communications Year is to stimulate economic and social progress around the world through accelerated expansion of communications and information services, and I think that this represents a tremendous opportunity for U.S. world leadership.

And let's face it, we are the pathbreakers in the most communications-intensive era in history. The world is in a communications revolution, and that revolution is being made right here at home. I think this process grows out of our -- or progress, I should say, grows out of our 200-year-old tradition of freedom -- freedom like that embodied in our first amendment, which gives every citizen the right to express his or her ideas and to act on them politically. We trust the people. Our Revolution was born to liberate the individual and to create economic and social opportunity. It lives in one simple principle: Government must rest on the consent of the governed. This is still the most inspiring and successful and truly progressive political idea in the world today. It always has and always will make tyrants tremble.

Back in the days before we had satellites and electronic hookups, Thomas Jefferson put it this way: ``The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.''

Well now, I couldn't help noticing something about that kind remark that Jefferson made about the press. [Laughter] He made it before he was President -- [laughter] -- not during his term.

As long as information, though, can flow freely, America can grow and thrive, and democracy itself will be stronger than before. This principle that Jefferson championed is reflected in Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

As we describe the world in which we live today and the world we're building for tomorrow, we see two trends growing side by side -- a universal quest for more and better information, and new opportunities and technologies sprouting up to meet this quest almost faster than we can imagine.

We Americans have an unprecedented opportunity. We can embark on a noble journey to reach our dreams and to serve mankind, and we can do it through communications, creating new growth, jobs, and hope for our people and for the rest of the world. This is our challenge for the eighties.

The development of new technologies such as computers, microchips, satellites, fiber optics has revolutionized our concept of communications over telephone, radio, and television. Each day in the United States our citizens engage in some 400 million telephone calls. That's nearly two for every man, woman, and child. And just from being upstairs when Nancy is there, I can tell you -- she's ahead of the game. [Laughter]

The world now has over one-half billion telephones, and about 140 nations are connected by communications satellites. The majority of these were built and launched in the United States.

Looking ahead to another private sector initiatives effort, in 1984 the Olympics in Los Angeles will be carried via satellite transmission to some 2 billion people around the globe. There is an international satellite under construction here in the United States that will hopefully be launched by 1986. It will be able to transmit the equivalent of the Encyclopedia Britannica every 3 seconds. Beyond that, we can envision the possibility of building much larger satellites complete with millions of telephone circuits and thousands of television channels.

We've opened the door, but we've only taken our first small steps into the new age of communications. With faith and confidence in each other, with a commitment to invest more and to invest more wisely in our future, we can create a new era of knowledge and opportunity.

The United States must rededicate itself to development of technology through our private enterprise system. We're one of the few nations of the world in which telecommunications is still controlled by private enterprise. And we shall lead the way. We must continue to share the benefits of this technology with the rest of mankind in keeping with the spirit of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

So, I thank you very much for your strong personal efforts to help us build our future -- a better future of progress, excitement, and hope. And now, I'm pleased to sign this proclamation for World Communications Year 1983.

It is the 16th, isn't it? [Laughter]

[At this point, the President signed the proclamation and then resumed speaking.]

Just in case you haven't heard, let me add a little to telecommunications right now. Lech Walesa has been released within the last 2 hours.

Mr. Ellinghaus. Mr. President, as the chair of the United States Council for World Communications in 1983, I want you to know that I'm deeply honored by your support and appreciative of your action today in issuing this proclamation. And on behalf of all the members of the Council that are here, we thank you for launching what we believe will be a very exciting and significant effort in the year to come.

And at this time, I would like to ask Mr. Amory Houghton, the chairman of Corning Glass Works, to come up and join us. Mr. Houghton has what I believe is a most fitting memento for this occasion, and he would like to present it to you, sir.

Mr. Houghton. Mr. President, I have two Christmas tree ornaments here -- one for you and one for the Vice President. And you may ask why I take your time to give you a Christmas tree ornament? -- [laughter] -- and the reason being is that it symbolizes a very important part of land-based communications, and that's part of the industry that I'm with. And it has the glass fiber as the core of it, and the glass fiber is able to do things which nothing has been able to do before.

If you look out this window, sir, and you wanted to transmit light through the glass, you could only go 3 feet without dissipating 90 percent of it. The ornament represents fiber which will produce a light source which will go 20 miles. And in terms of productivity, you might be interested in knowing that if you take a pair of twisted metal wires, which provide the light and the various energy sources around here, one strand of this glass wire has a 10,000-to-1 productivity increase.

And this is not bad -- [laughter] -- and it's done by private enterprise, and it's done right here in the United States. So, on behalf of Mr. Ellinghaus, who represents probably the greatest laboratory in our history, my fellow associates in the Council, and my fellow glassblowers in Corning, I give these to you, sir.

The President. I shall take this up, and it'll be on our personal tree upstairs. But I also am impressed with you and the people at Corning, and I thank you very much, because isn't this a reproduction of the logo -- --

Mr. Houghton. Yes, it is, sir.

The President. -- -- for telecommunications year of 1983? It'll be on the tree upstairs. Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:58 a.m. at the signing ceremony in the East Room at the White House.