Canada Appoints Lobbyist To Top Telecom Regulator, Follows US Down The Regulatory Capture Rabbit Hole

from the whiplash-from-the-revolving-door dept

The last few years have seen a boon in consumer and small-business-friendly policies coming out of Canada’s telecom regulator the CRTC. Under outgoing agency head Jean-Pierre Blais, the agency bumped the definition of broadband to 50 Mbps, required that phones must now be sold unlocked in Canada, shored up the country’s net neutrality rules, and took aim at the anti-competitive use of usage caps and overage fees. Not everything Blais did was a success (like their attempt to force cable TV providers to offer cheaper plans, then failing to follow through) but by and large the CRTC has been an improvement over years past.

But Canadian consumers are worried that’s coming to an end with Justin Trudeau’s decision to appoint telecom executive and lobbyist Ian Scott to head the agency. Scott has spent years working at and lobbying for several Canadian telecom incumbents, his velocity through the regulatory revolving door at several times leading to complaints over conflicts of interest.

Scott’s appointment have many Canadian consumer advocates worried that after several years of aiding consumers, Canada is eager to follow their neighbors to the south down the regulatory capture rabbit hole:

“This is a concerning choice by the government,? said OpenMedia communications manager Meghan Sali, who also noted that, under Blais, the regulator declared broadband Internet a basic service in Canada.

?Canadians were hoping for somebody with a strong consumer rights background, and will undoubtedly be disheartened to see the Trudeau government place someone from industry into the top decision-making position.”

Much like former US FCC boss Tom Wheeler, Blais’ attempts to actually stand up for consumers raised hackles at Canadian incumbents. At one point, Canadian incumbent Bell actually refused to let Blais appear on their television channels in retribution for his efforts to make Canadian cable television more affordable. Similarly, much like here in the States, incumbent ISPs often tried to characterize Blais’ slightly-more consumer-friendly policies as radical and fatal to industry investment and innovation. Needless to say, they’re arguably thrilled by this new appointment of a direct ally.

Of course the fact that Scott has spent the better part of the last few decades employed by incumbent Canadian ISPs doesn’t automatically mean he’ll be a sycophant to industry. Many are quick to highlight how nobody thought much of former U.S. FCC boss Tom Wheeler initially, his history of lobbying for the cable and wireless industries having raised plenty of eyebrows after his initial appointment. And because Wheeler went from dingo to what most see as the most-consumer friendly FCC boss potentially in agency history, he’s now consistently used to downplay the historical threat posed by revolving door regulators.

Except Wheeler was a lobbyist for the cable and wireless industries during their nascent years, when both were pesky upstarts actually interested in competition and disruption. Wheeler also historically showed an uncommon ability to actually change his positions based on facts, an attribute in increasingly rare supply. So while it’s certainly possible Canada’s new CRTC boss could “pull a Wheeler” and somehow magically become a consumer ally, history generally suggests that Tom Wheeler was the exception, not the rule. Still, maybe Canadians will get lucky and Canada won’t revert to a more industry-cozy approach to telecom and media policy.

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Comments on “Canada Appoints Lobbyist To Top Telecom Regulator, Follows US Down The Regulatory Capture Rabbit Hole”

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MyNameHere says:

This is another Karl story that makes me laugh, because he clearly isn’t in the know about Canadian media, broadcasters, and media ownership.

The CRTC is the Canadian equivilent of the FCC, at least in part. People are appointed to the CRTC for a 5 year mandate, and those people generally represent the various regions of Canada.

The tone for the CRTC was set when it was first created, the first chariman was Pierre Juneau, a media guy and political player (was a Federal cabinet member), who after the CRTC went on the run the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for seven years.

The chairman (and woman one time) have all been either well connection media people or political flacks of one flavor or another – sometimes both. The one woman chair, as an example, has gone on to be hair of Quebecor, the single biggest media company in French Canada.

Each of these people have, over the years, rubber stamped their way into history, approving merger after merger, sale after sale, and consolidation after consolidation. The two biggest wireless companies (Rogers and Bell) are also the two biggest ISPs, the biggest cable company and the biggest sat TV company respectively, and both companies own cable TV channels, broadcast networks, and huge swaths of the Canadian radio and TV universe.

The CRTC has been effectively “captured” since it’s creation. A new chairperson isn’t going to change anything, the rubber stamps are pre-inked.

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