CRTC names Leonard Katz interim chair

In September, the CRTC announced that it would not reinstate Konrad von Finckenstein as the chair of its board. After chairing the board for a five year term – fraught with controversy and fights over usage-based-billing and foreign ownership laws – the CRTC has passed the reins over to vice chairman Leonard Katz, albeit temporarily.

Iain Grant, managing director of the SeaBoard Group, a Montreal-based telecommunications consultancy, said that von Finckenstein’s appointment was a reaction to the slow-to-act chair before him, Charles Dalfen. “The government wasn’t very pleased with him,” he said. “The industry thought he was taking too long to make decisions.”

The problem has been, Grant said, that von Finckenstein had the opposite problem of Dalfen. He was too reactionary. “They wanted to get someone who was feistier, get rid of the backlog,” he said. “And he did that. He did exactly as advertised.”

He said this could lead to a lengthy search as the Harper government looks to find someone who won’t cause as much of a fuss as von Finckenstein but who will also get stuff done. “(The government) have 100 priorities. What they’re tired of is the CRTC getting on to their priority list,” he said. “When they overturn a decision, alarm bells go off.”

For the feds, they need a CRTC chair who will be more deferential to the government. “You need a QB who’s going to follow the coach’s direction, not a lawyer who (waffles),” Grant said.

Grant said, ideally, they could use someone who’s a bit more visionary. Someone who isn’t hung up on the letter of the law. Someone who’s not a lawyer. “Enough with the lawyers alright,” Grant said. “We should bring someone in with a vision of where we want to go.”

“I’m not sure we really need a lawyer in this job,” he said. Grant thinks that lawyers can get hung up on the small details, like how many commercials should be consumed per second, when – with the advent of streaming and downloadable video – that’s not how most consumers even watch their TV.

Grant also predicts the search will likely take some time. “In Mr. Harper’s government, senior positions like this – that have potentially a huge impact on the industry – these decisions are not made in haste,” he said. “They will think long and hard about what sort of person, what sort of credentials and what sort of qualifications they are looking for. So that doesn’t happen quickly.”

Katz, a seven year veteran and oft-time spokesman of the CRTC, and former employee of both Bell Canada and Rogers Communications Inc., will preside over Canada’s telecommunications governing body, at least until a more permanent replacement can be found. While he may not have been anyone’s first choice, Grant is sure he’s angling to keep the position.

Previous interim chairs served the board for three weeks and 10 months before they were replaced.

As disputes over piracy legislations SOPA and PIPA intensify in the U.S., it’s hard to believe that Katz will not be involved in some key decision making before his term is up.

That said, Grant has his own shortlist of candidates to take over the job. Among them, he mentioned both Andre Tremblay, ex-CEO of Microsell (FIDO) and David Dobbins, former CEO of Mobilicity. Both shook up the wireless industry with new ideas and fostered better competition. What’s left, Grant said, is to bring that competition to every community; not just big cities. “We have competition in major cities but not many Canadians live in those cities.”

There has been no formal word as to who the government are considering to take on the position full time.

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