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Dirty Consultation Tactics and Policy Advocacy Laundering

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  • The 2020 Yale Report (Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review) recognized the importance of public interest voices in telecom policy and regulatory consultations at the CRTC by recommending the establishment of a Public Interest Committee. However, this recommendation wasn’t extended to Canada’s other telecom policy and regulatory forum, Innovation Science and Economic Development’s (ISED) spectrum management consultation process. As the poor cousin of Canada’s telecom regulatory consultation forums (McNally et al., 2014; Shepherd et al, 2014; Joseph, 2018) ISED’s spectrum management consultations remain places industry voices dominate under less scrutiny from the public interest groups and academics. Though frameworks for assigning billions of dollars in spectrum licences are often at issue, these high stakes/little scrutiny consultations give rise to potentially dirty tactics.

    This presentation examines ISED’s spectrum management consultations to develop the concept of “policy advocacy laundering” whereby a party advances a policy position (policy advocacy) by having it appear as originating from a third party (laundering) as well as documenting its usage in these policy forums. Drawing on the literature on policy laundering, whereby states can adopt policies that were originally untenable by introducing them through circuitous means (de Hert and Aguinaldo, 2019; Geist, 2009; Hayes, 2012; Herman and Gandy, 2006; Hosein, 2014; Sarikakis and Rodriguez-Amat, 2014; Yu, 2010), the authors demonstrate how ISEDs forum has become subject to policy advocacy laundering.

    The presentation provides a detailed case study of the 2019 3500MHz consultation whereby numerous mayors and local governments submitted nearly identical letters as part of the consultation. The authors, through use of several freedom of information requests, subsequently determined the nearly identical letter was drafted by a telecom provider, presumably looking to advance its own interest and presenting its own arguments under the guise of having them originate from communities. While it is difficult to ascertain the exact impact of this approach - the primary argument that the auction should include spectrum set asides was favoured by numerous participants and ultimately adopted by ISED (ISED, 2020) - the presentation aims to raise awareness how Canada’s other telecom policy forum may be giving rise to new approaches to policy advocacy. The 3500 MHz case study is complemented by some further examination of municipal participation in other spectrum consultations to document the extent of the laundering problem. The presentation concludes with policy recommendations for addressing policy advocacy laundering and aims to encourage Canadian public interest groups and academics to maintain a vigilant eye on whether the tactic is adopted in other telecom and policy fora.

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  • Type of Item
    Conference/Workshop Presentation
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  • License
    Attribution 4.0 International