‘Great guy, works hard, very sane’: Incoming CRTC chief lauded despite concerns from consumer groups
Jul 19, 2017
Industry watchers say it’s telling that Ottawa chose a telecommunications insider to lead the tribunal that oversees Canada’s $65.7-billion communications industry
Source: National Post
Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly cited Ian Scott’s extensive industry experience as an asset in his new role as chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, despite concerns from some civic groups on the optics of choosing a former lobbyist to lead the regulator.
Joly announced his appointment on Tuesday, along with the selection of Caroline Simard as vice-chair broadcasting and the promotion of CRTC lawyer Christianne Laizner to interim vice-chair telecommunications.
In a statement, Joly said Scott and Simard have “extensive experience in the industry and a deep understanding of what Canadians expect in their telecommunications and broadcasting systems.” She said the “dynamic team” will “implement a strong vision for the CRTC.”
Scott started his career in the public service at the Competition Bureau and the CRTC, but his history as a registered lobbyist and executive at Telesat Canada and Telus Corp. sparked criticism from consumer advocates when the news of his appointment broke Monday.
Internet advocacy group OpenMedia said it fears the selection of an industry insider could mean a shift from the consumer-friendly policies of former chairman Jean-Pierre Blais, whose term expired in June.
“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 while millions are relying on the CRTC to help render more affordable internet services,” OpenMedia’s Meghan Sali said in a statement.
People who have worked with Scott, however, said he’s a good choice for the job. Former CRTC commissioner Timothy Denton, the chairman of the Internet Society of Canada whose tenure at the CRTC overlapped with Scott’s, put it most succinctly: “Great guy; works hard, very sane,” Denton wrote in an email.
Scott has represented industry in CRTC proceedings related to basic internet access and satellite service in remote and rural locations. His most recent role was at Telesat, which plans to launch a new high-throughput satellite next year that could vastly improve internet service in satellite-dependent communities in the far north.
Internet law professor Michael Geist said concerns about his lobbyist background are understandable given the CRTC’s long history of being viewed as pro-industry, but that people have a history of breaking from their past once they’re in independent positions.
“It’s genuinely a tough job. You’re going to get criticized no matter what you do,” he said.
Plus, Geist said it would be hard to find a candidate without industry experience if the government wanted a bilingual person with knowledge of the subject matter that actually wanted the job.
Industry watchers say it’s more telling that Ottawa chose a telecommunications industry insider, not a broadcast expert, to lead the tribunal that oversees Canada’s $65.7-billion communications industry.
In a statement on the appointments, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains highlighted the need for affordable access to high-quality telecommunications services.
“Under their leadership, the CRTC will continue to champion the social and economic needs of Canadians by encouraging more competition and innovation among telecommunications providers,” Bains said.
Telecom pulls in more than 70 per cent of the industry’s total revenue, driven by exploding consumer demand for fixed and mobile broadband. Broadcasting, on the other hand, is slowly shrinking as consumers choose digital alternatives to radio and television.
But a number of groups publicly called on the minister to appoint someone from the broadcast cultural side given outrage over a recent decision to reduce the amount broadcasters must spend on programs of national interest.
“The government really recognizes that communications policies in the 21st century are fundamentally about telecommunications and the internet,” Geist said.
There are still vacancies for regional commissioners (the CRTC can have up to 13 commissioners, but has recently operated with about nine). In a statement, the Canadian Media Producers Association called on the government to appoint candidates with backgrounds in independent film, television and digital media production.