Your bills will go up – but don’t assume an insidious CRTC plot

The debate over internet, cable and mobile rates is far more complex than the Twitter universe reflects

Reading Time: 3 minutes

All the average citizen knows about their cable, mobile and Internet bills is that – like taxes – they always  go up.

For those who care why this happens, a brief Twitter tour of #crtc will introduce you to the debates surrounding the inexhaustible and often catty haggling over how your cable, cellphone and Internet spending should be divvied up among the hagglers.

All of this is, of course, in the public’s interest.

Over here you’ll find the creative unions – ACTRA (Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists) et al. – insisting that unless the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) micromanages content production to their liking, the nation’s culture will fail. They contend that, somehow, Rookie Blue tells a more Canadian story than Ice Pilots NWT or The Amazing Race Canada when it’s obvious it doesn’t. It just provides a lot more paid work for unionized actors and writers. Not that that’s a bad thing but as someone I knew once said, “if the point is primarily to give them jobs, it might be better just to form a Ministry of TV and hire them all.”

Meanwhile, over there you’ll find the small group I call – with great fondness – the Telecom Geeks. You will have no idea what they’re talking about. They often speak a blend of legalese and telcomese that bandies about words such as common carriage, next gen 911, FTTP and ITMP as if normal humans speak that way. I have no advice on that other than if you really want to get an interpretation, read, The Wire Report or the fine but more occasional reporting of the Globe and Mail and Financial Post.

Within that Twitter conversation, you’ll find seeds of unease and concern regarding new chairman Ian Scott’s background, which has unsettled some parties because he once worked for Telus and more recently the rapaciously profitable Telesat. Certainly people are entitled to their skepticism on any topic, but to assume that Scott, or any other CRTC commissioner for that matter, should be viewed with suspicion because they once worked in the private sector is at best unfair and at worst ridiculous.

Here are two of many reasons for this:

First, the whole point of having commissioners is to offer governance over decisions recommended by public servants centralized in the National Capital Region. This means the chairman and commissioners should have perspectives and experiences other than those embedded within the Soviet-style architecture of the bureaucracy.

If anything, the public should be more concerned about the appointment of career public servants to these positions because they’re the least likely to challenge the already dominant Ottawa worldview and, culturally, add little to the regulator’s intellectual diversity.

Second, just because you used to work for someone, why do people assume you would favour them? Many people no longer work for an employer because at least one of the parties wasn’t happy.

I worked at the CRTC with people – including Scott – from a host of professional backgrounds. They certainly brought a helpful variety of expertise to the table but there was never the slightest hint of institutional favouritism. And, had it emerged, it would have been corrected by colleagues.

It’s also important to remember that commissioners – including the chairman – must recuse themselves for one year from any decision impacting their previous employer.

Those of us with uniquely private sector backgrounds were useful at defining unintended consequences, and outlining anticipated impacts and responses.

So now that Scott is in charge of defining the public interest and how much your cable, mobile and Internet bills go up (because they always do), let people critique decisions (because they always will) on their merits, not by presuming a prejudice.

Peter Menzies is a former newspaper publisher who spent 10 years as a CRTC commissioner.

Peter is a Troy Media Thought Leader. Why aren’t you?

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The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

Peter Menzies

Peter Menzies is a former newspaper publisher who spent 10 years as a CRTC commissioner and vice-chairman.

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