New CRTC chairman’s experience described as both an asset and a conflict

Ian Scott was confirmed as the new Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) chairman earlier this week, and so far, reaction from the telecommunications industry has been mixed.

Mark Goldberg, an independent telecom analyst, believes that the appointment of the new CRTC chair is “tremendous,” especially given his experience.

“With his experience in such a wide variety of industry segments, from satellite cable and traditional telephones, to wireless and broadcast, as well as serving the remote north for high speed Internet services, this is someone who has the technical and policy skills from both government and industry perspective, and it’s just refreshing to have that type of talent leading the CRTC,” Goldberg tells IT World Canada.

Scott is a telecom industry veteran who has previously worked at the CRTC and the Competition Bureau, following a stint as the director of regulatory affairs at satellite communications provider Telesat Holdings Inc. His past also includes executive positions at Call-Net Enterprises and the Canadian Cable Television Association.

Scott will assume the role in September and serve a five-year term. His appointment has attracted a fair amount of criticism from the general public, however, as the former Telus VP is a significant move away from outgoing chair Jean-Pierre Blais, a career bureaucrat that demonstrated a customer-centric approach.

“I think we are a little disappointed to see that the new CRTC chair will be someone with such strong industry ties,” says Meghan Sali, communication manager at OpenMedia. “I think it could be a departure from what we’ve seen under previous chair Blais, who was really working towards opening up the CRTC decision-making process to more intervention from the average Canadian consumer and making that process more responsive and relatable. We got used to the heavy focus on affordability and trustability under five years of Blais, and so that’s what we’re hoping to see continue, but we’re watching with interest to see how Ian will handle the top job.”

She adds that Canadians have expressed their skepticism over how effective the CRTC really is at serving their best interests, and that this appointment could be harmful to the organization.

“Even the appearance of having someone in the top CRTC role that’s so tied to the industry could ultimately be detrimental to the organization,” she continues. “We’ve been hearing from so many Canadians for such a long time that the CRTC is just a revolving door, and that it serves industry and not all Canadians, so there’s a lot of tension. I think even the appearance of having very strong industry ties undermines the trust Canadians have in the institution, and that will remain until we see what approach Scott will take.”

However, Goldberg says that Scott’s industry and lobbyist history should not be such a big concern.

“There’s zero conflict of interest here. I hope that we don’t think people who are regulating and setting policy for a $50 billion dollar industry should have no working experience in any of those industries. That’s a preposterous type of view,” he laughs.

But Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa, is not jumping to conclusions just yet.

“It’s not surprising that civil society groups have expressed concern about Scott and whether he’ll continue down Blais’ path of incorporating more public interest perspectives, but for the most part, it’s too early to assume anything yet. There’s a history of people surprising their critics once they become commissioners or chairs and being more independent than was originally assumed,” he explains. “What I do see is that I think this signals the government’s desire for less confrontation and drama at the CRTC. I think Scott will take a less confrontational approach to many issues, but again, we need to give him some time to settle in.”

Scott will have several important choices to make quickly into his term, such as a review of the CRTC’s decision to bar Sugar Mobile from accessing a roaming agreement on Rogers’ network, which needs to be revisited by January.

OpenMedia’s Sali adds that with the CRTC’s announcement to make broadband a basic service for all Canadians earlier this year, Scott will also be tasked with distributing the $750 million pot of funds dedicated to building that infrastructure in areas not up to speed.

“One thing we have been calling on the CRTC to do this year is to strongly prioritize community organizations, municipal governments, indigenous governments, and ‘indie’ providers for that infrastructure money, and not use that $750 million to prop up big telecom companies,” she emphasizes. “We want to see that funding go to smaller providers and community-based initiatives to hopefully bring more competition to the market, so we’ll be watching closely.”

Independent analyst Goldberg expands on this, saying that if Scott continues former chair Blais’ mandate letter and policy direction, he will be successful.

“I think the current policy direction is sound and consistent, and should serve as part of the guiding principles under which Scott operates. And frankly, given his experience at the Competition Bureau, I think he understands that the policy doesn’t say not to regulate, but to regulate to the minimum extent necessary and rely on market forces to the maximum extent, and when using regulatory measures, use a light touch,” he concludes.

Scott will take up his new role in September.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Mandy Kovacs
Mandy Kovacs
Mandy is a lineup editor at CTV News. A former staffer at IT World Canada, she's now contributing as a part-time podcast host on Hashtag Trending. She is a Carleton University journalism graduate with extensive experience in the B2B market. When not writing about tech, you can find her active on Twitter following political news and sports, and preparing for her future as a cat lady.

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