KONRAD VON FINCKENSTEIN made a lot of work for a lot of us.
As he has noted since he first took the job of CRTC chair in January of 2007, he wanted to make the CRTC more open, predictable, fair, and timely. While by our judgment he succeeded, with that openness came more public processes and a quick count of the number of public proceedings under his watch comes to 103. His predecessor, the late Charles Dalfen, called just 78.
Mr. Dalfen, however, never had to deal with the likes of YouTube, Facebook or Twitter.
Coinciding with von Finckenstein’s tenure at the top of the Commission was the unpredictable, unprecedented, unwieldy growth of new media, taking cable, radio, television and telecom to places few could have predicted; places our antiquated Broadcasting and Telecom Acts are not equipped to deal with. And yet, today’s Commission must try to find a place for those analog laws in our electronic, digital world.
Besides the new ways in which Canadians can consume and create media, make and receive phone calls – and at what warp speeds, the way in which we can pass information to one another has dramatically impacted the CRTC as well. Under von Finckenstein, the Regulator has never been more open. Canadians have never had such a loud voice at the table when decisions affecting their TV, radio or phones were being made. Tens of thousands of Canadians have let von Finckenstein and his fellow commissioners know how they felt and those regular Canadians have made change happen (see UBB, Re-dux).
Such a thing is unprecedented. Back in the old days, handfuls of lawyers and staff would work their way through proceedings few others could or would bother with. But now that the CRTC’s work is so much more accessible – and directly affects the now very personal wireless devices we all carry around with us and depend upon, those handfuls of lawyers and staff have become bucketfuls, and include senior executives and communications strategists. Commission proceedings are far less sleepy affairs and the level of information – and misinformation – floating around is high.
The job has not been an easy one – nor will it be for the next chair, whomever it may be. As of this writing, no new chair has been announced by the federal government and it is assumed the remaining commissioners will nominate an interim-chair from one among them (many assume it will be telecom vice-chair Len Katz) as soon as Tuesday, von Finckenstein’s last official day at the helm. If no new chair is announced by government, that is the official process of choosing an interim chair.
Last week, Konrad von Finckenstein sat down with Cartt.ca editor and publisher Greg O’Brien to talk about the last five years, both the lowlights and highlights. What he loved, what he didn’t and what he hopes for in the future. What follows is an edited transcript.
Greg O’Brien: I was getting ready for this interview last night and I counted how many stories mentioned your name in Cartt.ca since you began. There’s 376… the next closest person was Peter Bissonnette (president of Shaw Communications), who was at about 100.
Konrad von Finckenstein: Because he returns phone calls.
GOB: That’s right... So that works out to more than one per week (on average, over five years). It’s a lot. I don't know what that means. I just thought it was interesting. I guess that’s a long way to ask if you knew what you were getting into when you were first hired or even approached for the job?
KvF: I had a fair inkling because I was commissioner of Competition before. What I did not appreciate is how the issues constantly change. In competition, you basically have one issue and you apply it in different situations. Here, you have thousands of issues. Today, it’s OTT. Tomorrow, it’s accessibility. The day after, it’s 9-1-1, etcetera. The variety and abundance of issues took me by surprise.
GOB: Telecom and broadcasts and then different cultural applications that broadcast that don’t apply to telecom…
KvF: And things kind of come to you out of left field, which you don’t expect. A decision that you make that you think is relatively routine, and then suddenly assume a life of their own.
GOB: The unintended consequences.
KvF: A prime example would be UBB, the wholesale decision. It wasn’t even a hearing. It was a wholesale decision dealing with what we thought was a relatively routine matter… It blows up out of all proportions. Thousands of emails and everything, etcetera. Everybody misunderstands it. Business gets upset. Everybody thinks we are mandating (data) caps, which we have never done and never will do. If you had asked me before we made that decision, “Is this going to be controversial?” I would have said “it probably doesn’t get a headline.”
GOB: To be honest, I didn’t pay all that close attention to it as well, and it just kind of exploded and people were asking me: “What is this?” I tried, but the more I explained it to them, the worse it seemed to get. It was hard to show the distinction to just regular Canadians who were reading what they read.
KvF: I appeared before Parliament and one MP asked me: “What does this mean for dial-up customers, because most of my constituents are dial-up?” And I said, “we are talking broadband.” (laughter).
GOB: I think what’s happened over your five years, it seems to me, is there is now unprecedented consumer involvement in the CRTC process, in the telecom process, in all of the rest of it. How difficult has that been to deal with?
KvF: To some extent, we brought it on ourselves. As you know, I very much believe in transparency and predictability. And so we’ve had far more hearings and processes, etcetera., which brings people in and highlights a thing and gets it more background. I think that’s good because these issues, after all, impact the general public – and I want to not only find out from the industry insiders, but from as broad a spectrum as possible what are the possible consequences and so on.
The second one is of course the whole advent of the Internet and mass communication, social media, all of that. We’re already living in a different world. I mean, your role as a journalist is different now than it would have been five years ago. We as decision-makers have a whole different constituency, suddenly, that we have to learn to deal with.
This happens to be also the industry that the consumer particularly feels comfortable with and understands affects them directly. And it happens to be one of the largest economic drivers. So, suddenly from being sort of a sideshow, we’ve moved to centre stage. Telecom and broadcast regulation wasn’t the essence of an economy. But when you talk about now a digital economy, or cyber economy, whatever, the tremendous gains that you can get in efficiency, all of that is based on your telecom system. So, therefore, what was sort of one of many regulated industries has suddenly become the centerpiece.
GOB: When I launched Cartt.ca in 2005… there was me and a couple of other people that covered telecom nationally. And now...
KvF: How many competitors do you have?
GOB: It comes from all over the place. There are all sorts of different spotlights being shone on the industry. I find it kind of invigorating and a lot of fun in some ways, but in other ways it’s a bit daunting because there is so much information and misinformation, so many people saying so many things.
KvF: To sort the wheat from the chaff is a huge task for you and for everybody. It’s moving so fast, you don’t know where it’s going, and as a regulator, you always try to balance between competing interests, but you also try to understand what is the general trend, where are things moving, where they’re going, and therefore set outside boundaries of what’s permitted and what’s not permitted. Well, it’s pretty hard to chart in this area where really nobody has an idea and everybody is doing something different.
GOB: Another interesting thing to note is that when you started, YouTube was only a year-and-a-half old, and look at what it is now.
KvF: Facebook didn’t exist (Ed note: To clarify, Facebook in its current form didn’t exist. It had only been made publicly available to all who wanted in for four months prior to von Finckenstein’s appointment. Before that, it was available only to university students and that iteration of Facebook is far more primitive than the massively influential global corporation it has become.)
GOB: Just look at all the changes. So, when all of this is being dumped into the funnel that is telecom and media in Canada, how do you deal with it as a regulator? How do you think your successor, or the CRTC in the future, is going to be able to deal with this? What needs to be done?
KvF: It’s a mixture of two things. One is obviously response. People come to you with demand… to do something about a certain issue, a certain trend, etcetera. The other one is using your ability as much as you can to foreshadow, to see what’s coming and anticipate it – and you’ve seen us do both. We’ve obviously reacted to things such as requests for mergers, or requests for accessibility. Then also anticipate: Our big policy hearings – the BDU review, the diversity of voices, vertical integration, all of it. We see this is where things are going as much as we can see. It’s a bit like charting the ocean, but you don’t have a North Star, so you don’t quite know where you’re going.
GOB: And you’ve got storms on both sides and behind you.
KvF: Exactly. So you try to do the best you can, and we do both, and I think my successor will do the same thing. There are some existing problems you would have to deal with, etcetera. For instance, one that faced me and which we solved was 9-1-1. 9-1-1 worked (then), but not on cell. That doesn’t make sense, we said. So we forced the industry to do the technical stuff and when they came with standards we said “well, that’s the standard” and by February 2010, implemented it. They squawked, but they did it. That was clearly a need… and that was a reactive one.
A proactive one was we saw that mergers would not stop and that’s why we did the diversity of voices proceeding. I think we were just in time because it told everybody this is how far you can go, no further, and it has been generally accepted.
GOB: Were you surprised at the continued pace of the mergers? I think the first one under your mandate was CanWest buying Alliance Atlantis, and then CanWest was gone so quickly. Does it trouble you at all how so few companies own so many assets?
KvF: Two different questions. It didn’t surprise me. Once you see one, the next one follows. Once CanWest Global (and Alliance Atlantis) happened, I wasn’t surprised that CHUM-CTV followed shortly after. Then when Shaw bought Global, I had a bet with one of my commissioners over when Bell would buy CTV. It seemed to me that had to happen. It was the obvious thing to happen. I’m not sure we are finished, yet.
Is it desirable? No. I probably would like to have more competition. The more players the better. But given this peculiar thing of being a large country with a small population – and also living in the shadow of the United States – it’s inevitable that you’re going to have a few large players. The key is to make sure that these large players use their size to innovate… not to just maximize profits, and that you leave room for small players to come in if they have a better mousetrap, that they don’t get squashed on arrival. That’s always been the balance.
I mean, it’s not much different than what I did as Commissioner of Competition. You have different goals here and so on, but still essentially, in every phase of the Canadian economy, you have a few large players and a whole bunch of tiny ones and you try to strike a balance.
GOB: Look at one of the guys who sold in one of those mergers, Michael MacMillan; he still sees some opportunity in the industry because he’s building something new.
KvF: And quite different than what he did before. He’s seen that, yes, content is king, but he’s very much, as far as I understand, concentrating on the broadband side. He sees himself as a broadband player. More power to him.
GOB: You have mentioned a number of times previously that part of the difficulty in regulating this industry, such as it is, are the Acts, themselves. Where you think those should go in the near future?
KvF: The division between broadcast and telecom is totally out of date. Both acts are 20 years old. They were very relevant at that point in time but now we have converged technology and a converged industry, and the regulation still treats these as separate. And, whether you watch a program on TV, or on your mobile device, or on your computer, it’s the same activity. You are consuming that content. Yet totally different rules apply whether it’s one or the other. That just doesn’t make any sense. It’s only getting worse because all of our TVs are becoming interactive and you will be able to do voicemail and email and everything on your TV set while you’re watching it on game consoles and whatever.
So, we should first of all talk about delivery of bits, have rules for delivery of bits and what you have to do in terms of interconnection, in terms of sharing, allowing other people access and so on. Then if you want to favor Canadian content, how do we do that in this new environment? Is it necessary to favor Canadian content? Or is the new environment actually providing enough opportunity that you don’t? If you do, do you favor technologically, do you favor production? Do you subsidize production? Do you subsidize promotion? Do you do it through income tax devices? You need a holistic rethinking of the whole thing.
GOB: You’re right. While some disagree, you just can’t apply the laws now to new media. I don't think it can be done.
KvF: It can’t be done. Even if you do it, theoretically, you can’t enforce it. So why do it? I couldn’t agree more with you. I’ve said that publicly.
GOB: You can’t go to Mr. Netflix or Mr. Apple and say, hey, you got to give us a certain amount of money for Canadian content.
KvF: There’s no need for a Netflix.ca, they could just say, fine, we’ll run it out of the States. How are you going to stop them? And by the way, there are a million Canadians who love this stuff, and they’re going to get very upset if you suddenly say, sorry, you can’t buy Netflix anymore because they don’t play by the rules. You may have thought UBB was fun…
GOB: I said something like that in a column of my own at one point: If you thought the UBB fight was interesting, wait until the “we must regulate new media” fight, if that ever happens, because there are certain sectors of the industry that still believe that’s the way to go.
KvF: I know, but I think in new media our approach, which is basically hands-off, but just make sure that there is no self-preference and no outright discrimination of targeted information is the way to go. You have to also look at the institutional arrangements. I mean, action is in wireless. That’s just the way it is. The spectrum is becoming extremely important. The U.S. is liberating huge spans of (spectrum) where part of it is regulated, part will be unregulated, etcetera., to spur innovation.
GOB: We’re way behind.
KvF: We’re way behind and also we have this divided jurisdiction (the CRTC oversees and regulates the telecom and broadcasting industry, but Industry Canada oversees and hands out spectrum) where most of it is over there, but part of it is also here. Vacating it involves us (see digital transition, August 31, 2011) and I have said, publicly, there needs to be a rethink. I have no problem with the government making the big policy decisions, pointing out what spectrum is being used for or who can be a player, but the day-to-day implementation and administration of the spectrum would be much better if we put it in a neutral body, rather than having it in a government department. We can deal with this much faster and you develop an expertise. We have seen, for instance, in the last AWS (spectrum auction) with the tower sharing, etcetera. If you don’t’ have somebody there who (can mediate), it’s very messy to do it on the basis of arbitration and court actions.
GOB: With tower sharing, if you talk to Mobilicity and Wind, it just isn’t working. There’s not a lot of sharing of towers going on.
KvF: And of course, time is on the side of the incumbents. Why would they share? It makes no business sense to do.
GOB: It seems that with the majority government, with all of the problems and the challenges and the issues everyone knows exist, that this would be a great time, from the highest level, to take a look at all of this and rethink the Acts, redo them, and that would give the Commission a chance to modernize the policies and just everything all the way down to make things work a better.
KvF: You’ve heard me talk in the past, saying we should have a Royal Commission on digital issues, the digital challenge, digital age, call it what you want, because this is a good news story. Have the best and brightest people in the country look at it and lay out what are the potentials, etcetera, and then government can pick and choose what you want to implement and what you think it too hot a potato. That’s how we’ve always done it and I don’t know why we have such a reluctance to do it here. I really think legislative renewal, and institutional renewal, and overall digital strategy, those are going to be the issues of the future.
GOB: How about he Von Finckenstein Commission.
KvF: Go ahead! [laughter]
GOB: Looking back on your five years, here, what are you happiest with?
KvF: I set out what I wanted to do in my very first speech (at Prime Time, the CMPA’s annual gathering) where I said I have four principles that I want to implement: transparency, predictability, fairness and timeliness. I think we did that and it showed itself in terms of a much speedier process, trying to simplify and streamline the rules as much as possible. We have joint procedures; we have lots of hearings and much improved hearings, etcetera. And as a result of it –
GOB: Faster decisions.
KvF: Faster decisions, yes, and also dealing with an awful lot of issues which were blocking things and holding people up, and as a result of which, Canadians are better off. From the consumer end, you have, as I mentioned, 9-1-1, you have DNCL (the do-not-call list); we have an emergency alert system, which came at me from the side, and we’ve re-established the rules of accessibility. We established comprehensive policies for the industry after hearings like, for instance, BDU, or the group-based licensing policy review (for broadcasters) We implemented them always the emphasis on three things: innovation, competition, consumer benefit. As a result of which we have a more systematic, orderly process. Predictable, transparent – people understand what to do and how we operate. Are they happy with all our decisions? No, of course not. There’s always somebody not. But as long there are as many are happy, I mean, you’ve got the right balance and I think you’ve succeeded.
GOB: Despite the many, many complainers online – I mean, I’ve covered this industry long enough to know – this Commission has been the most open, the most public, the most forthcoming, of any. Further to what we talked about earlier, it’s a reflection of how many people are paying attention now because they can. Because there’s more information out there because you’re providing more people with that information and opportunity to contribute. So it just kind of snowballs into more and more people paying attention because they’re able to.
KvF: I also think you make better decision because you do appreciate the various ramifications. And the bane of every regulator is the unintended consequences. You do something with the best motives… and you don’t realize, yes, I have achieved that, but here, it changed a factor that you didn’t even counter on.
GOB: I asked you what you’re happiest with. What are you unhappiest with, looking back over your term?
KvF: Probably underestimating the impact of communications, of miscommunication – the impact of distorted communication. The best two examples – one of them is Sun TV. Here, they applied for a Type A license, which we don’t hand out anymore, so we turned them down. So they applied for a Type B and we give them Type B. Simple story. We get articles in the paper the PM is unhappy with me, wants to post me to Chile, etcetera. Somebody starts an Internet petition trying to prevent Fox News North from coming here and suddenly uses my name. I finally issued a letter saying this is complete and utter bogus, invention. No one has ever talked to me, it has nothing to do with what was a straightforward regulatory process. But the story got totally out of hand. I should have realized it earlier and stepped in much harder and much clearer saying there is nothing to it.
Same thing with UBB. I mean, UBB was a little decision regarding wholesale access. It has nothing to do with retail. Spun totally out of control. Everybody thinks we were trying to impose (data) caps, which we’ve never done, never will do, which would affect retail, which we don’t regulate. The minister gets involved, Parliament gets involved, blah, blah, blah... If I had to do this again I would be much more alert for early indications that something is volatile, then step in very early with correcting information because it just gets a life of its own and you can’t catch it anymore once it goes.
As a result of it, I was positioned as if I was at war with the government. Never have been. I mean, I am a public servant all my life. The government has certain responsibility, I have respect for what they do and I’ve never criticized the government or tried to do anything. I’ve never been at odds with them, and yet the public image became the CRTC is at war with the government.
GOB: Never got a call from the Prime Minister’s Office saying, “we need this done, we need that done and we need this changed”?
KvF: I have never received a phone call from the PMO, never received a call from the minister… I’ve had two or three calls from ministers on a very technical, small issue where he wanted information, so I gave it to him. That’s it.
GOB: Now you have to deal with Tweets from the minister, though, now.
KvF: I don't have to deal with those [laughter].
GOB: You have to deal with the fallout of the Tweets, how about that? So, no policy directors from your Twitter account, then.
KvF: Certainly not! (laughter) It’s fascinating to just watch the effect of Twitter because you can see the attractiveness to a politician being able to reach everybody and it’s self-mobilizing and the cascading effect of it. Really, nobody has quite managed to successfully – some people ride it successfully for a certain period of time – but it can just as easily turn on you.
One of the challenges as part of our hearings is to, in effect exploit the electronic element positively. Now, it essentially gives us a sounding board to find out from interested people their concerns, use it as input to the hearing (to help) what to question… But we haven’t really managed – and I don’t think anybody else has – to have a meaningful electronic dialogue, or a meaningful electronic town hall or something like that.
GOB: It’s very, very difficult, especially for an agency like this to have one voice that talks back and forth to people electronically. Conversations happen informally, but you can’t really have an informal conversation as “the CRTC”, right?
KvF: We just would as soon answer some of these Twitters and explain. But how does it fit into the process? If I had a (tweeted) conversation with Greg O’Brien about OTT and we go back and forth, and the whole world reads it, then what’s the status of it, what does this mean? It just doesn’t fit into the overall scheme of things.
GOB: There have been a number of proceedings over the past five years that dealt with diversity of voices, that dealt with vertical integration. The fee-for-carriage/value-for-signal fight was part of that, as well and “Stop the TV Tax” versus “Local TV Matters was a very destructive fight which just hurt everybody. However, the policies which have come out of all of that – and this is something we just talked about in November in Ottawa – how worried are you about these new companies, these vertically integrated companies, acting like – the term I had in my head is “V.I. bullies” – is that something that concerns you?
KvF: That’s why we had the vertical integration hearings. It concerns me very much. When you have that much power, you will use it to maximize your profit. While I have no problems with them maximizing their profit and using that in to prosper and innovate, etcetera., I want to make sure it’s not done in a destructive way. Our whole vertical hearing an attempt to bring a balance between on the one hand saying yes, I appreciate there are efficiencies to be gained in vertical integration… but do it for positive gain, not in order to defeat your competitor or to suppress your competitor, or be a bully, to use your word.
Both sides say we’ve gone too far (with the VI decision). The big boys say we went way over and are re-regulating. The small guys said we didn’t give them enough protection. So to that extent we found some sort of balance. It will have to play itself out. There will have to be a few cases on these things being arbitrated before people know more or less how the wind will blow. But that’s why we’re here. Otherwise, why bother regulating? If you have four bullies, sooner or later they will dominate the landscape.
GOB: And that’s what the independents are worried about when they talk to me, and you’ve certainly heard them before, as well.
Another thing I wanted to ask you about, which goes along with what we talked about earlier about modernizing legislation… is foreign ownership. I think the competing rulings on Globalive (the CRTC said it was foreign-owned and illegal, Industry Canada said it was fine) really reveal part of that problem. Then the government basically intervened and said “this is what it is.” That points to additional things that need to be fixed.
KvF: Foreign ownership is clearly one issue that has to be addressed. The Globalive decision really muddied the waters. You had a decision from us, you have a decision from the Minister, you have a decision from one court level, from another court level. Now it’s going to the Supreme Court, or it may go to the Supreme Court, I don't know. But the bottom line is very simple. Do you want to have a Canadian-controlled communications system or not? If you take the limits off, sooner or later a large portion will be foreign-owned.
And what does that do for Canadian content? One side says, “well, for Canadian content you just regulate it, and so they will comply because that’s the law.” The other side says “no, it’s more than just regulation. If the key people are not Canadians and don’t understand Canadian reality, sooner or later our Canadian television will not reflect Canadian reality… and you’re running the danger of it detracting from our national identity.” This is a classic decision that elected officials have to make. I would be very cautious because once you do it, it’s very hard to reverse it. On the other hand, what we have right now clearly needs to be clarified, simplified and made easier.
GOB: One of the former CHUM executives distilled it for me years ago. He said if we’re going to have a Canadian TV industry, then we have to have a Canadian TV industry. What that meant to him was that we must have certain protections to make sure that it exists because the way public companies are is they will default to the most efficient thing. And if the most efficient, profitable thing is buying programming from elsewhere and not making it here…
KvF: There is no doubt about it. It is more efficient and more cost-effective to buy programming elsewhere and import, than produce it here and trying to export it. That’s the realty. With that being the reality what do we do?
GOB: I had this argument with Phil Lind before. That this is the way it’s always been, and is the way it looks like now, but I think if you want to actually maintain a media business you have to have content which people can’t get from anywhere else. You have to make your own content. You should make more of your own content. I look at things through the prism of my own business. If I just reprinted what I read in Multichannel News, I wouldn’t have a business very long. I have to do my own stuff, my own content.
KvF: The fact that people want to find out, certainly in news, but also sports, what’s happened in their neighborhood. If you just have ESPN, you’re not going to satisfy Canadians. They want TSN because they want to know how the Canadian teams are doing.
GOB: Or just the Leafs. If you live in the market I do. Just the Leafs.
KvF: Look at local news. Look at this outfit in Hamilton, your hometown. I always think of them as CNN for Niagara Peninsula, it’s really what they’ve made themselves. Nothing moves there that’s not reported, and people love it.
GOB: People watch and listen and know CHCH like has not happened in decades… When it became the E Network and there was less focus on local, the people there were demoralized. Now, they’re invigorated. They’ve got a lot more to do than under the former ownership, but the people there who I talk to are really invigorated and love what they’re doing.
KvF: The key thing is people want that information. But for drama, it’s much cheaper to buy it in Hollywood and bring it here. This is how you get people to your network in the first place. It’s interesting to see the various experiments as they’re going on. Shaw is now going to have an all-B.C. network. Where does this come from? Presumably because the guys on the island (CHEK) have tried it and it works.
GOB: Exactly... What would you consider your best day on the job?
KvF: Probably the day that we came out with net neutrality, or ITMP where to my absolute amazement it was a universally positive reaction. There was not a single person who said we got it wrong. As you know, we were the first to tackle this issue, and we had to tackle it comprehensively for both wireline and wireless – and we struck the right balance. This, I thought, is exactly what a regulator should be doing: Laying out the rules, but laying out in such a way that’s saying it’s really up to you. We will only step in if we have to. Here are the rules by the way, this is how I’m going to judge you. I felt very good that we did that.
GOB: Now, at the other end?
KvF: How did I know that was coming? (laughter)
GOB: What would you say was your worst day? Or were there more than one?
KvF: I think my worst day was during UBB, when that became such a big issue. We were in the middle of Bell Canada, the (CTV) merger hearing. I had to stop the proceedings to go and testify before Parliament. I explained it and tried to defend it.
GOB: I was in town for that; I remember.
KvF: First of all, I realized nobody (at committee) understood the issue. And secondly, I realized that maybe they are right. Maybe we got this wrong. I was using the analogy of electricity, and of course it’s the wrong analogy because in electricity you both generate and transport. Here you only transport, so you should use pipelines (as a parallel) – and then it suddenly becomes very clear to you and that in a sense was in our final decision: “Let’s start with capacity. If you have more capacity, you have more costs. But if it’s only this pipeline that runs at 30% or 100%, who cares? It’s only when you make it bigger that it costs more.
I felt bad about the issue being totally out of control, my not being able to explain it succinctly, the questioners not understanding anything at all about it, and in the back of my mind I’m thinking, this logic doesn’t quite work.
GOB: However, the net result is a decision everyone is happier with. There are still complaints and some people shouting about it, but the net result is it is something better.
KvF: Everybody thinks the approach is right. There’s some dispute about the numbers and the cost, and you’ll have some review hearings about this, but I think by and large people think it’s a better decision. But that wasn’t a good day.
GOB: It certainly wasn’t. What do you wish you had more time for that you wanted to finish? There are 11 or 12 proceedings out of the vertical integration hearing. Would you have like to have seen that through? What would you like to stay on for if you were given the opportunity?
KvF: Actually, not so much the hearings, but what I mentioned before – the legislative renewal and working on a new whole regulatory scheme. I spent my whole life regulating, and I spent a lot of time in legislation – conceptualizing and drafting – getting to Parliament and implementing it. It’s a fascinating process. You see at the end whether you have succeeded or not, and that I would have loved to see. I’ve advocated some movement on this but since we were a minority government (for so long), my pleas fell mostly on deaf ears.
You can do it incrementally, you know. For instance, introducing AMPs (administrative monetary penalties) properly. Or I’d like the Australian variation, where you have mandatory-voluntary codes where you basically say to the industry, “look, you’ve got a problem, come up with a code, let me sanction it and you can administer it yourselves. We did that in telecom with the Commissioner of Complaints. That model I really like because it’s the industry that does it, they assume the costs and make sure it doesn’t go out of hand, etcetera, but as oversight for the government, we look at it and make sure it’s not self-serving, but it’s also open to all, it’s fair and it’s in the public interest .
GOB: Kind of the way the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council works.
KvF: The Australians have this wonderful mechanism where you can hold hearings, and say this government, this industry, or this activity needs it, etcetera., and you give them 12 months or whatever period to come up with something. If they fall short, you then can mandate it, but it has never happened there. Every industry says “god, the last thing I want to do is be regulated here. At least let me put out my own scheme.”
GOB: Do you have any advice for your successor?
KvF: Two things. Make sure that you have a unified team. I was lucky that commissioners always worked as a team. There have been some dissents, but we never had anybody not playing along, or objecting or posing, etcetera. We had differences of opinion, which we worked out as professionals. We really worked as a team, and that’s I think is absolutely key to the success: that there’s a good work relationship between the commissioners.
Secondly, make sure that you appreciate the staff. The staff really does the work for this place and they’re very professional, excellent, but they need to know that they’re being appreciated. You will avoid any division between commissioners and staff when they see themselves not only as inputters, but as partners in working out a solution.
The danger is I think is to make sure that you and your staff don’t get captured by the industry. Regulatory capture, co-option, whatever you want to call it, is really the thing you have to watch out for. Because you’re always interacting with the same people and after a while you’ll start thinking like them, unless you really make a determined effort to talk to others, reach out, go to international conferences, talk to non-members of the club, so to speak. Otherwise, you become homogenized.
GOB: You’ve mentioned that issue before. It’s difficult. I’ve been in this industry for a long time. I’ve dealt with the same people for a long time. So sometimes I’ll strike up conversations with people in the coffee shop near where I live and work. And the funniest thing was about 18 months ago I was talking to some people and the woman serving coffee overheard. She was probably a McMaster University student and she stopped me and she says: “What is that, the CRTC?” And I thought, ‘oh, man, awesome.” She had no idea. That shows you how we’re all sort of myopically focused on all of this, but most of the rest of the people aren’t.
KvF: Or else they know of you, but are uninformed or only know one little negative thing that they don’t like. Like “those are the guys who don’t let me watch the Super Bowl commercials.”
GOB: Before I move on to my last question and ask you what you’re going to do now, is there anything you think I might have missed?
KvF: No. I think we basically covered the waterfront. This has been five incredible, fascinating years, with the financial crisis in the middle – which of course affected the industry – and everything else. There was never a lack of challenge and I think we felt every day coming to work there would be an intellectual challenge waiting for me. And that’s very rare.
Every job I have had has been on a five year cycle, more or less, and it’s time for a new mind, a new approach. I’m looking forward to, to doing something different but given the job and given the conflict codes and so on, I haven’t been able to look around and I shouldn’t be. So I’ll take a couple of months off and play golf and decompress. I’m not packing it in. I’m looking forward to my next job.
GOB: You’re not going to re-emerge as the head of regulatory at Bell Canada or anything?
KvF: No, no, no. (laughter)
GOB: I don't think that’s allowed.
KvF: There are so many things that are happening and are fascinating, and I really feel I still have something to contribute. I don’t want to make a quick decision. This is probably going to be my last gig, so I want to take some time to decide what I ought to do, and how.
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