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CRTC Chair Crossed Harper Government Too Many Times

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If you disagreed with your boss at almost every turn and one of those arguments resulted in him getting dragged into a court battle, would you be surprised if he fired you? Probably not.

That's why it's hard to understand what was going on in the mind of Konrad von Finckenstein, who reportedly wanted to stay on as chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission when his current term ends in January.

To be fair, von Finckenstein hasn't been axed, but the Harper government made it official this week that it will soon install a new chairperson.

The CRTC's track record under von Finckenstein, who has been in his job since January 2007, is punctuated by several clashes with the government.

Most recently, there was the usage-based billing fiasco, wherein the CRTC approved a plan by Bell to indirectly impose data caps on smaller wholesale internet service providers.

After Internet users revolted, then industry minister Tony Clement took to Twitter to condemn the regulator and said it must "go back to [the] drawing board." The CRTC is currently reviewing the matter, with a decision expected in the next few months.

Then there was the fight over Sun TV, the Quebecor-owned property that many dubbed 'Fox News North' because of its right-wing slant. The CRTC denied the channel a top-tier license, which would have made it part of everyone's basic cable package.

That kicked off speculation last year that Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose former media officer was running Sun TV, wanted von Finckenstein out immediately.

There were also a few smaller skirmishes, such as the government's disagreement over giving wholesale ISPs access to higher-speed networks owned by the likes of Bell. In late 2009, Clement acquiesced to lobbying from the big telecom firms and ordered the CRTC to review its decision, yet the regulator ended up sticking to its guns.

The biggie, of course, was the Wind Mobile situation. In October 2009, the CRTC denied Wind the right to start up because it wasn't convinced the company met Canadian ownership requirements. The government, which wanted more wireless competition in the form of new carriers, acted swiftly to overturn the regulator.

That wasn't the end of that, however. Telus and Public Mobile, another new carrier, said the government overstepped its bounds and dragged the matter to court, where it has seesawed since. Public Mobile is now taking the issue to the Supreme Court.

All told, that's a pretty good resume for someone who's looking to prove their independent thinking, which is a good trait if you're an entrepreneur, not so much for a government-appointed bureaucrat. And while it's hard to separate von Finckenstein's thought processes and influence from that of the other dozen CRTC commissioners, ultimately the buck has stopped with him.

The fear now is that the prime minister will move to install someone who is more subservient, which is a topic of discussion for another day.

In the meantime, one of the public's chief criticisms of the regulator is that it is out of touch with reality, particularly in regards to how the Internet is changing telecommunications and media.

If von Finckenstein really thought he stood a chance of getting a second term, then perhaps it's good he's on the way out because that criticism would be right on the money.

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