CRTC chairman not reapplying for position

TORONTO — The chairman of Canada’s telecommunications regulator says he is not reapplying for the role, days before his five-year term — one marked by clashes with industry at a time of seismic change — comes to a close.

Jean-Pierre Blais assumed the helm of the CRTC at a time of technological upheaval with the rise of video streaming services like Netflix and the accelerating rollout of high-speed mobile networks.

During his tenure, Blais championed a number of policies intended to be consumer-friendly, developing a reputation along the way for being one of the more activist CRTC leaders in recent memory.

“I think we’ve made a difference and I’ll let it up to other people,” he said in an interview Monday. He said he did not know who would succeed him.

Blais implemented so-called skinny TV packages for no more than $25 per month, enacted a wireless code of conduct and declared broadband Internet access a basic service — the latter a move applauded by consumer advocacy group OpenMedia, a frequent CRTC critic.

Michael Geist, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, said the changes that came under Blais will have an impact long after his departure.

“Shifting the culture of a government agency and working to bring Canada’s communications regulatory framework into the digital age is something that largely eluded his predecessors,” Geist said on his website.

“Blais came to the commission with an exceptionally ambitious agenda. He achieved far more than could have reasonably been expected and he is likely to be regarded as the most consequential CRTC chair in a generation.”

Blais repeatedly squared off with the big telecom companies, holding little back in his pronouncements.

He slammed Rogers and Shaw after they shut down their video streaming service Shomi late last year, publicly musing whether they became too accustomed to a “protected ecosystem rather than rolling up their sleeves” to strengthen their businesses.

Last October, he also incurred some corporate scorn after announcing interim rates that the big telcos must charge independent service providers to gain access to their faster networks. Some of the telcos warned that if those rates were maintained, that could hamper future investment in broadband networks.

Even leaders of news organizations found themselves a target of the CRTC chairman. At a speech before the Canadian Club of Toronto, he painted some of them as greedy “corporate executives who own luxury yachts and private helicopters” with their hands out for public subsidies.

He also hinted the CRTC may not renew licences of TV service providers that fail to respect the spirit of the regulator’s basic cable regulations.

Blais, whose term ends Saturday, said he has no immediate plans.

“Taking the summer off and we’ll see.”

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