The CRTC, Canada’s telecom regulator, announced today that Vice-Chair Len Katz will serve as their acting chairman until the government appoints a new chair. This is not a surprising choice, as Katz has been the CRTC vice-chair since 2007.

Outgoing chair Konrad von Finckenstein had his ups and his downs, but since last year has changed in a way that is really quite notable. The CRTC has a history of caving to industry pressure and forgetting to fully consider the impact their decisions have on the Canadian public. But in an interview with the Canadian Press last week, von Finckenstein acknowledged that the telecommunications industry “has a huge social impact and that affects us all.”

The article where this appears goes on to say, “Von Finckenstein has some advice for the new boss: keep your independent wits about you and don’t get co-opted by big business.”

Hopefully Katz and the soon-to-be-announced new chair will keep this advice in mind. Thanks to the work of the pro-Internet community, Canadians’ engagement with CRTC decisions has increased considerably. The chair should always remember that we know our interests are at stake in every decision, and that serving the public is more important than serving the narrow interests of big telecom companies.

It’s difficult to say what Katz will do as interim chair, or even what he’ll have the opportunity to do, but we do have a little bit of background. Here’s a mini-resume we built for Katz:

2005-2007 – Executive Director of Broadcasting and Telecommunications, CRTC
2002-2005 – Digimerge Technologies (digital security)
1985-2002 – Rogers
1974-1985 – Bell Canada

Katz has a total of 26 years working for Big Telecom — 17 with Rogers and 11 at Bell — but recent decisions on UBB and vertical integration suggest he’s willing to put the public interest before that of telecom industry giants. Katz has shown a willingness to work in the public interest as of late; we hope it continues and we wish him luck.

Looking ahead to the new chair’s appointment, it’s important to realize that it is in fact our elected government that makes the decision. We have an opportunity to raise our voices and remind them that the CRTC ought to be open, citizen-centred, and public-interest oriented.

In our Action Plan, we recommend that the government include broader stakeholder and citizen participation in the appointment process of CRTC commissioners. We also write that the government should be more accountable and transparent in the appointment process, and that their criteria should include significant experience in the public interest or consumer advocacy community.

Regardless of what comes next at the CRTC, Canadians need to stay informed and engaged. Key decisions about the open Internet, in addition to many other parts of our communications system, will be made in the coming years, and we should be a part of them.