Envy will get me nowhere!


Christine Dobby of the Globe and Mail reported last week that an old colleague of mine from Department of Communications days had committed a no-no by accepting a million dollar contract from the Axis of Evil while still working for the government of Canada. (With apologies to Bell – they are really not that bad).

A former official who for decades played a key role in Ottawa’s wireless strategy accepted a “million-dollar” consulting role with BCE Inc. while still employed by the federal government.

Last week, a judge ruled that Peter Hill, a former director-general of spectrum management at the department of Innovation, cannot testify as a government witness in a $1.2-billion lawsuit that former investors in failed wireless startup Mobilicity launched against Ottawa. Mr. Hill, who worked in the department for 34 years, helped make government decisions about spectrum access, giving carriers access to cellular signals


My first thought, and a somewhat serious one, was that I was sad to see a good guy like Peter Hill do anything bad. My next thought was “one million dollars!!” Would that I had spent my career being a useful tool of monopolies! As the judge wrote:

“Mr. Hill has a million-dollar contract to advise one of the three incumbents whose conduct is at issue. He is contractually bound to act in the incumbent’s best interests and avoid any prejudicial conduct toward it.


“In my view, Mr. Hill’s conduct on the defendant’s examination for discovery demonstrates that he prefers the contracting incumbent’s interests over his obligations as a witness,” the judge said, concluding that the government must put forth a different witness.

What this should alert us to is the gigoon amounts of money -squidgillions, as the Brits are wont to say – involved in the sale, grant, give away of spectrum. The government gives these enormous rights, structures the industry thereby, forgets to establish in a timely way regimes of interconnection and sharing, pursues with single minded devotion the idea that competition must be “facilities-based”, and then wonders why our usage is low and our prices are high, and our rates of adoption are behind those of most other OECD countries. Why? As in, why do they wonder? The government controls every single parameter of competition. 

My study this past year of what Korea, Japan, Australia, the UK, and the EU have done persuades me that other countries have recognized that telecommunications industry structure is planned, consciously planned, in significant economies throughout the capitalist world, and that, within reason, in telecoms you get the results that you plan for.

Armed with their rights in spectrum, and the lines that have been enabled to plant in the ground throughout cities and the country, and a  complaisant CRTC and, until recently,  an indulgent Industry department, Canada is also getting the result we plan for. There appears to be an SNC-Lavalin-style relationship of telcos to government that needs further exploring and, if necessary, expunging. I am not sure whether Peter Hill did anything other than what the culture of the place allowed, admired, or envied.

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