a weekly blog for all interested in professional communications issues

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

CRTC chairman: Nobody deserves undermining by tweet

Thanks to Twitter and our tweeting Industry Minister, we can all add CRTC chairmanship to the list of least desirable jobs in Canada along with chief fundraiser for the Liberal party, coach of the Ottawa Senators or CFL commissioner.

Ottawa has every legal right to take issue with any decision by the CRTC and over-ride it through cabinet order.

Many Canadians would applaud Industry Minister Tony Clement for standing ready to overturn a CRTC decision to implement usage-based billing for internet customers.

A case can be made for usage-based billing now that consumers are downloading feature-length movies from the internet. But a case can just as easily be made not to suddenly saddle people with huge cost increases without warning. There was no surprise the CRTC was facing a public backlash.

But the way Clement chose to tell the CRTC – over Twitter – showed a lack of class. The head of a federal regulatory agency deserves something more than 140 characters over Twitter. So do Canadians.

Clement made it plain that if the CRTC didn’t change its position on usage-based billing, cabinet would do it for them. But he also twisted the knife a little further by tweeting that he was ``looking forward’’ to remarks by CRTC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein before a Commons committee the following day.

Not only was Clement publicly undermining the commission, he was doing some old fashioned bullying – something von Finckenstein didn’t deserve.

After all the CRTC was only following a written directive by Clement’s predecessor, Maxime Bernier. Bernier, the first industry minister when the Conservatives assumed office in 2006, ordered the CRTC to put market forces above the public interest.

The CRTC was just following government policy when it approved usage-based billing. Then Clement figured out which way the wind was blowing and got on Twitter.

Canadians shouldn’t have to guess what the government is going to do in the future – or what the minister is going to tweet. The government should take the trouble to formally spell out policy.

Ironically, the Federal Court dealt Clement a stinging rebuke a day after the minister pushed around the CRTC. The court ruled a 2009 cabinet order that allowed Globalive to launch its Wind Mobile wireless service was in contravention of Canada’s limits on foreign ownership in the telecommunications sector.

The CRTC had originally ruled Globalive was an Egyptian-controlled company. The government ruled Globalive was Canadian controlled without bothering to clarify or change existing law.

Now it is the government’s turn to be pushed around – this time by the courts. Courts don’t tweet.

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