The major Canadian telecommunications companies announced yesterday that they have created a new Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services. They indicated that the interim Commissioner – David McKendry – was now ready to take complaints and that the new commission would seek approval from the CRTC and complete its organizational structure over the next six months.
I find this development simply stunning. Following the recommendation of the Telecom Review Panel to create a new complaints agency, Industry Minister Maxime Bernier announced in April that he was calling on the telecom industry to work with the CRTC to establish an independent telecommunications consumer agency. This is not working with the CRTC, however. This is creating a new corporation, handpicking an interim Commissioner, placing the incorporating lawyer along with lawyers from Telus and Bell on the board, and presenting the Commission as a done deal to the public.
There are ample substantive grounds for the CRTC to reject this new Commission (the board structure provides too much weight to the telcos as compared with other similar bodies such as the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments; the penalty powers are too low; the body is voluntary rather than mandatory as recommended by the Telcom Policy Review panel), however, it the process that compels it to do so. Reports indicate that the CRTC will ask for public comment on the new Commission before granting approval, yet the Commission should have been prohibited from launching before such approvals. This form of private lawmaking is wrong and yesterday's launch does little more than mislead the public and fuel the perception that there are no limits to Canadian telecom deregulation.
Update: The Minister of Industry has just issued a press release applauding the industry for the creation of the Commission.