New CRTC head says ‘ Christ­mas pre­sents’ from Ot­tawa will keep telco reg­u­la­tor busy

The Welland Tribune - - BUSINESS - EMILY JACK­SON ejack­son@ post­media. com

OT­TAWA — Two months into his role as chair of the fed­eral reg­u­la­tor that over­sees Canada’s $ 66.6- bil­lion tele­com and broad­cast in­dus­tries, Ian Scott hasn’t come up with a “grand vi­sion” or an agenda of his own.

Rather, Scott used his first speech to in­dus­try as head of the Cana­dian Ra­dio- tele­vi­sion and Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion to em­pha­size his plans to reg­u­late as best as pos­si­ble in the pub­lic in­ter­est, care­ful to de­fine pub­lic in­ter­est as views of both in­dus­try and con­sumers.

“I ex­pect many of you will lis­ten to this speech closely and parse its con­tents care­fully for some in­di­ca­tion of which way my fel­low com­mis­sion­ers and I in­tend to steer this or­ga­ni­za­tion in the years to come,” Scott said at the In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Canada con­fer­ence in Ot­tawa on Tues­day.

“You are per­haps look­ing for a grand vi­sion state­ment, a tip of the cap that we are pro this or op­posed to that. I’m sorry to dis­ap­point you.”

Scott has ex­pe­ri­ence on both sides of the reg­u­la­tory ta­ble, start­ing his ca­reer at the Com­pe­ti­tion Bureau be­fore be­com­ing a tele­com ex­ec­u­tive, once at Telus Corp. and most re­cently at Te­le­sat Canada. In­dus­try watch­ers have been look­ing for clues to see if he’ll lean in their favour, and in­deed, his speech did note the $ 11.6 bil­lion spent on net­work up­grades last year and said it’s “en­tirely fair” to ex­pect re­turns on those in­vest­ments. Yet it also noted Cana­di­ans’ de­sire for fast, af­ford­able and re­li­able In­ter­net and more com­pe­ti­tion.

But in an in­ter­view with the Fi­nan­cial Post, Scott said he could just as eas­ily be la­belled a “gov­ern­ment in­sider” based on his ex­pe­ri­ence. Ei­ther way, he said it would be “lousy” de­ci­sion- mak­ing if he did any­thing but make de­ci­sions based on all the ev­i­dence on the pub­lic record.

“I’m fo­cused on bal­anced de­ci­sions in the pub­lic in­ter­est,” he said.

He is adamant that his top goal and his vi­sion for the role is to be a world- class reg­u­la­tor that does its job well and makes de­ci­sions af­ter col­lect­ing ex­ten­sive ev­i­dence. While that might not make ex­cit­ing head­lines, he said, “I think that’s ex­actly what peo­ple need to hear.”

Scott, who of­fi­ci­ates alpine ski rac­ing in his spare time, isn’t vy­ing for the spot­light. When re­fer­ring to CRTC de­ci­sions, he cor­rected him­self when he said “I”, switch­ing in­stead to “our” or “we” to re­flect the other com­mis­sion­ers. He de­scribed his style as “less for­mal, more col­le­gial,” and said he’d rather staff call him Ian than Mr. Scott.

His “door is open,” he said, and he has al­ready met with stake­hold­ers in­clud­ing the Pub­lic In­ter­est Ad­vo­cacy Cen­tre and Shaw Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Inc. He will not dis­cuss mat­ters be­fore the com­mis­sion, but he said he wants to hear from a wide range of peo­ple to hear about big pic­ture de­vel­op­ments.”

His is a dras­tic de­par­ture in tone from his pre­de­ces­sor Jean- Pierre Blais. When Blais first ad­dressed the in­dus­try at the IIC in 2012, he said his goal was to re­new the fo­cus on con­sumers to earn the trust of Cana­di­ans. Blais out­lined his pol­icy di­rec­tion, in­clud­ing the in­tro­duc­tion of a wire­less code, and said he wouldn’t hes­i­tate to in­ter­vene if needed to pro­tect con­sumers. “( Com­pa­nies) ig­nore the wishes of Cana­di­ans at their own peril,” Blais said.

Scott said he does not have any ideas brew­ing for projects of his own, in­stead planning to deal with is­sues as they ar­rive. For the next six or seven months, he said the CRTC will be busy work­ing on files sent back from the gov­ern­ment, call­ing them “our Christ­mas pre­sents from the min­is­ters.”

This in­cludes Cana­dian Her­itage Min­is­ter Mélanie Joly’s re­quest for a re­port on fu­ture con­tent dis­tri­bu­tion mod­els to sup­port her re­view of Cana­dian con­tent in a dig­i­tal era, and her re­quest that the CRTC re­view its de­ci­sion to de­crease spend­ing floors for Cana­dian pro­gram­ming when it re­newed broad­cast li­cences.

The CRTC is also field­ing In­no­va­tion, Sci­ence and Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter Navdeep Bains’ re­quest that it re­visit its de­ci­sion not to man­date whole­sale ac­cess to wire­less net­works.

On top of the gov­ern­ment files, the CRTC must set up the $ 750- mil­lion fund to sup­port broad­band in ru­ral and re­mote ar­eas. The fund was an­nounced last De­cem­ber but the fund was an­nounced last De­cem­ber but the de­tails have yet to be sorted. The reg­u­la­tor is also re­view­ing which chan­nels get manda­tory dis­tri­bu­tion.

Ian Scott

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