The back and forth regarding the CRTC’s authority in telecoms just gained another boost: a recent paper from lawyers representing the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) calls for changes in government structure to allow the regulator more uncontested authority in governing the telecom sector (via the Wire Report).
As PIAC lawyers John Lawford and Geoffrey White recommend in the paper, the CRTC should take over management of the wireless spectrum from Industry Canada. Also, the cabinet’s authority to overrule the CRTC’s decision needs to be revoked, alongside other recommendations. In underscoring their recommendations, Lawford pointed to the National Energy Board and the Transportation Safety Board as precedents.
From their perspective, more authority in the hands of the appointed policy makers, and less in the hands of elected leaders, would increase the transparency and accountability of decisions. An important aspect that needs to be considered is that the CRTC is less subject to being policized and influenced by lobbying than cabinet ministers.
The cabinet has overturned – or at least has threatened to do so – CRTC rulings, in the past: back in 2009, it overruled the CRTC’s decision that Globalive Wireless Management Corp, Wind Mobile’s parent company, should not be allowed into the Canadian market because of its foreign ownership.
“If the legislature says, ‘We’ve not doing telecom because we need an expert regulator’ then let the expert regulator do telecom,” Lawford said. “I don’t see [cabinet decisions] necessarily as being open and public… because it’s really the cabinet’s power,” he said. “It would be decided inside the cabinet wall by the governing party, and that’s that.” By contrast, the CRTC has an open process for decision-making, in which the public can participate, he emphasized.
When asked to comment on the PIAC lawyers’ report, Industry Canada spokesman Michael Cimpaye said in an email: “The government is committed to ensuring that the interests of consumers are put first and foremost, and we will continue to ensure that consumer interests are at the core of all government decisions.”