To no one’s surprise, Konrad von Finckenstein
won’t be appointed to a second five-year term as chairman of the country’s telecom and broadcast regulator.
According to news reports on Tuesday, von Finckenstein told his staff at the Canadian Radio-television Commission (CRTC) he won’t be back after his term expires in January. Later, Sébastien Gariépy, press secretary to Heritage Minister James Moore, said in an e-mail to Network World Canada that a process for selecting a new chair will be announced soon.
Arguably his future became apparent in February when Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Industry Minister Tony Clement bluntly announced the government would overturn the commission’s decision allowing BCE Inc.’s Bell Canada to impose a usage-based billing (UBB) on independent Internet providers buying wholesale connectivity from the telco.
The government, they made it clear, wouldn’t tolerate Bell interfering with independent Internet service providers.
At the time, former commissioner Richard French, now at the University of Ottawa, complained von Finckenstein and the commission had been treated shabbily by making public remarks.
For a government that told the commission in 2006 to only regulate “to the minimum extent necessary,” it was apparently the last straw and civility wasn’t necessary.
“He has tried to balance pressures for market forces with a reasonable deference to the sub-economic size of the Canadian market for most communications industries,” French said in an interview Tuesday.
However, he added, “occasionally, he’s his own worst enemy, because he’s an impatient, emotional, committed person” French said.
Iain Grant, managing director of the SeaBoard Group, a Montreal-based telecommunications consultancy, saw the government’s decision as an act of revenge for issuing more than one decision it doesn’t like.
“How many times does the government have to clear its throat for the commission to get it?” he asked.
By naming a new chairman, the government will be able to ensure the remaining commissioners get it. (And in case they don’t, the terms of four commissioners will expire next year, and four more in 2013.)
Von Finckenstein was not an unknown when Harper appointed him in January, 2007. At the time he was a Federal Court judge, but before that had been head of the Competition Bureau and a deputy minister of Industry.
Both French and Grant praise von Finckenstein for ensuring commission decisions are made quicker than those by previous chairmen.
But the government should have known what it was getting, says Grant.