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