Ian Scott, chairman of Canada’s telecommunications regulator, is facing new questions about his objectivity after he recently defended meeting a bar with a senior Bell executive.
Competitive Network Operators Canada, a lobby group for small Internet service providers (ISPs), filed an application Thursday afternoon with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission asking Scott to recuse himself – or be withdrawn by the commission – files related to competition on the Internet.
This is the latest in a series of formal challenges to both Scott’s authority and the CRTC’s decision-making stemming from a May 2021 ruling on the wholesale prices small ISPs pay to consumers. major players such as Bell and Rogers for access to their networks.
Smaller players are reselling this service to their own retail customers and last year’s ruling reversed an earlier ruling that gave independent ISPs lower wholesale rates. They now say their business model and their ability to charge customers lower prices is under threat.
Through various attempts to overturn the decision, independent ISPs, which include players such as TekSavvy and CNOC member Distributel, have made Scott’s own conduct central to their arguments, insisting that the appearance impartiality is at the heart of its role.
CORC and TekSavvy have separately filed motions asking the federal cabinet to overturn the decision, and the Federal Court of Appeals has said it will hear a case brought by TekSavvy.
“It’s not personal. This is about the professional integrity of a very important institution,” said Geoff White, Executive Director and General Counsel of CORC, in a pre-filing interview. The lobby group is asking Scott to step aside from decisions regarding small ISPs until the Federal Court of Appeals rules on the case.
In an exclusive interview published this week, Scott told The Star that “nothing inappropriate was done” regarding his December 2019 meeting in an Ottawa pub with Mirko Bibic, who is now the CEO of Bell, the Canada’s largest communications company.
“I went for a beer with someone I’ve known for many years,” Scott said, adding that the meeting initially had nothing to do with business. Prior to joining the CRTC as Chair in 2017, Scott had an extensive career in the telecommunications industry, including government relations roles at satellite operator Telesat and wireless and home internet company Telus. .
When the conversation turned to a broadcasting issue, Scott said, Bibic registered the meeting in the federal registry of lobbyists, as required by rules on how government officials interact with corporate representatives.
“At no time have I had a discussion with Bell about any file that I have before us,” Scott said in the interview, the first time he addressed the meeting publicly. which the Star first reported in June 2021. “No the rule was never broken.
But CORC says the meeting raises at least an appearance of bias and wants the CRTC to steer the chairman away from key issues that could affect internet prices.
White called it “amazing” that the CRTC chairman was “having private conversations with the CEO of the most powerful telecommunications company” at a time when the original wholesale rate decision was on appeal.
“And then it’s the fact that he seems to be asserting that it wasn’t a problem,” White added. “The courts have been very clear that such conduct, even the appearance of bias, is not permitted.”
CORC also points to a comment Scott made at a conference last year, when he said he had a “personal preference” for competition based on companies building their own networks. It can be extremely expensive to enter the telecommunications sector and this model is considered by many to be more favorable to large incumbents.
CRTC spokesman Eric Rancourt said Thursday the commission could not speak to the applications before it and had no further comment on Scott’s interview.
The CRTC is independent of government, but reports to the federal government through the Department of Canadian Heritage, which also appoints commissioners. A representative from that department was not immediately available for comment Thursday afternoon.
Asked about the CRTC’s request on Thursday, a representative from Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) said the federal department could not comment “because the matter is still before the courts,” in apparent reference to the case. TekSavvy before the Federal Court of Appeal. ISED issues policy directives to the CRTC that serve as a guide for its decisions on telecommunications matters.
The federal cabinet must respond to the motions filed by CNOC and TekSavvy by May 27, a year after the date of the challenged CRTC decision.
The CRTC previously told The Star that the commission made an independent decision based on a public record of the case and that as chair, Scott is one of nine commissioners to make the appeal.
There is no firm deadline for the CRTC to respond to the type of request CNOC filed on Thursday.
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