Federal government officials met with lobbyists for Canada’s big telecom firms “an average of twice every business day” over the past year, independent internet provider TekSavvy says.
The Chatham, Ont.-based company argued in a blog post this week that Canada is on the verge of “regulatory capture” in its telecom industry ― a situation where regulators “come to be dominated by the industries or interests they are charged with regulating.”
TekSavvy analyzed entries in the federal lobbyist registry in the 12 months prior to February 2021, and found 577 meetings between officials and the three big telcos ― Bell, Rogers and Telus ― as well as three regional players ― Shaw, Quebecor and Cogeco ― and the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association.
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Current lobbyist registry data shows 134 meetings between government officials and Rogers Communications over the past 12 months. Shaw Communications had 81 meetings, while Corus Entertainment ― effectively controlled by the same family as Shaw Communications ― had 70. Telus had 77 meetings while BCE had 64.
The lobbyists met with Ian Scott, chair of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) 11 times and with Navdeep Bains ― who was minister of innovation, science and economic development (ISED) until January ― 13 times, by TekSavvy’s calculations.
“Most meetings were with bureaucrats in ISED and the Department of Heritage, which respectively oversee telecom and broadcasting policy,” TekSavvy vice-president of insight and engagement Peter Nowak wrote on the company’s blog.
TekSavvy was the only indie internet provider to lobby in Ottawa over the past year, holding 20 meetings, Nowak wrote, while Open Media was the only consumer advocacy group to have met with officials on telecom issues, in 10 meetings.
TekSavvy’s analysis comes on the heels of news reports showing Canada’s big three telcos took more than $240 million in wage subsidies from the federal government during the COVID-19 pandemic, while paying out billions in dividends to shareholders.
Bell was singled out for criticism recently when it announced widespread layoffs at its Bell Media division. The company had taken $122 million in pandemic-related wage subsidies in 2020, according to news reports.
“A single meeting doesn’t automatically translate into the lobbyist’s desired action, but such results are likelier when policy makers are primarily getting messaging from proponents of only one side of an issue,” Nowak wrote. “The problem can be compounded when policy makers themselves have ties to the companies.”
He noted that Deputy Finance Minister Michael Sabia served as CEO of Bell Canada parent company BCE from 2002 to 2008, while the CRTC’s Scott is a former Telus lobbyist.
Scott’s appointment to head the CRTC in 2017 had some consumer advocates worried the CRTC would shift to a more friendly relationship with Big Telecom, but some of the commission’s decisions since then have riled the big players, particularly a decision to lower wholesale rates for indie wireless providers who buy bandwidth on big telecoms’ networks.
That decision is now the subject of court challenges.