Jean-Pierre Blais to head CRTC as regulatory environment changes

Jean-Pierre Blais has been named the new chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. The longtime civil servant replaces Leonard Katz, who was appointed acting CTRC chairman in January after Konrad von Finckenstein ended his five-year term as head of the broadcast regulator. In a news release, Prime Minister Stephen Harper described Blais as […]

Jean-Pierre Blais has been named the new chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

The longtime civil servant replaces Leonard Katz, who was appointed acting CTRC chairman in January after Konrad von Finckenstein ended his five-year term as head of the broadcast regulator.

In a news release, Prime Minister Stephen Harper described Blais as well-qualified for the position, having held senior positions in government as well as at the CRTC itself.

“I wish him all the best as he takes on the challenges of his new role,” Harper said.

The appointment is effective for five years.

Blais takes over the regulator at a time of rapid change in the industry, in particular the explosion of broadcasting online. New internet frontiers for broadcasting have created challenges for the CRTC because it doesn’t regulate the web.

Upon leaving his post in January, von Finckenstein suggested the new environment requires a new form of regulation.

“Whether you talk, whether you send video, whether you send a fax, an e-mail… it’s just bits that are being sent over the same wire,” he said in an interview.

“That has completely changed our traditional definition of broadcasting and telecom. It’s now essentially the same thing.”

Von Finckenstein called for a single law that would cover both sectors and a single regulator for broadcasting, telecom and even wireless spectrum – an area currently managed by Industry Canada.

“It’s time to review this legislation, it’s 20 years old,” he said. “We want a system that carries bits, carries them efficiently and gives Canadians as much access as possible.”

Von Finckenstein and the Conservatives butted heads several times during his tenure on issues such as how Internet companies bill their subscribers and foreign ownership of telecom companies.

Just after he left, the Tories announced they were lifting foreign-investment limits on small telecom firms.

But Blais’ recent positions at Treasury Board and Canadian Heritage suggest he’s likely to have a far more cordial relationship with the government.

Decisions he’s facing include whether to create a national set of standards for wireless telephone contracts.

The regulator is also reviewing whether to allow CBC to run ads on some of its French-language radio channels as the broadcaster grapples with a major budget shortfall.

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