Canadian telecoms giant Rogers Communications is under pressure to answer for a network outage that left millions of people across Canada without cellphones and internet access for several hours, an incident that has also drawn attention to a lack of competition in the industry.
Rogers said Saturday morning that service had been restored to “a large majority” of its customers, attributing the outage, which began in the early hours of Friday morning, to a router malfunction following maintenance work.
“We now believe we have narrowed the cause to a network system failure following a maintenance update on our core network that caused some of our routers to fail early Friday morning,” Rogers chief executive officer Tony Staffieri said in a statement.
But some Rogers customers told local media they had no service for several days, prompting frustration and calls for accountability.
The outage forced many Canadians to go to cafes or public libraries to get Wi-Fi on Friday, while the banking, healthcare, transportation, government and emergency services sectors, among others, were also hit by the disruption.
Canada’s federal minister for industry, Francois-Philippe Champagne, said Sunday that he would meet with Staffieri and other telecoms leaders to discuss improving the “reliability of networks across Canada” following the Rogers outage.
He called the outage “unacceptable” and an example of “why quality, variety and reliability are key to our telecommunications network.”
Spoke to the CEO of Rogers. He shared the frustration of millions of Canadians.
Also spoke to the CEOs of Bell and Telus. Everyone is in solve mode and ready to help.
This unacceptable situation is why quality, variety and reliability are vital to our telecommunications network
— François-Philippe Champagne (FPC) 🇨🇦 (@FP_Champagne) July 8, 2022
Staffieri, the CEO of Rogers, said in an open letter on Friday that the company will make “any necessary changes to ensure that we meet and exceed your expectations for our networks going forward” and would provide affected customers with a loan.
But some critics say that’s not enough. Many have argued that the outage shows the need for more competition in Canada’s telecoms industry; Canadian customers pay some of the highest cell phone and internet prices in the world as only a few companies control most of the market.
Rogers is the leading service provider in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, with approximately 10 million mobile customers and 2.25 million retail internet customers. Rogers, Bell Canada and Telus control 90 percent of the market in the country.
The Public Interest Advocacy Centre, an Ottawa-based nonprofit group, sent a letter (PDF) to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) on Friday asking for an immediate investigation into the nationwide outage.
The center also asked the CRTC to consider whether telecom providers in Canada “should be required to meet a baseline for contingency planning, chargeback requirements, notification and transparency, and other consumer protections” to operate in the country.
“We do not believe we have an obligation to justify the severity of the disruption consumers and citizens are facing in relation to the current outage, which is evident and particularly in light of an outage previously reported by Rogers in 2021 and recent outages is outrageous in northern Canada,” the letter said.
In April last year, thousands of Rogers customers reported intermittent disruptions to wireless voice and data services for several hours before the company was able to restore full service to its network.
— RogersHelps (@RogersHelps) July 10, 2022
Friday’s hiatus also came two days after Rogers held talks with Canada’s antitrust regulator to discuss potential remedies for its stalled takeover of rival Shaw Communications.
Canada’s competition regulator blocked the deal earlier this year on the grounds that it would hamper competition; the merger is still awaiting a final verdict.
On Monday, Canadian payments gateway Interac announced it was adding another network provider to its system after the Rogers outage left millions of Canadians unable to make online payments. “We’re adding a supplier [besides Rogers] to strengthen our existing network redundancy so Canadians can continue to rely on Interac on a daily basis,” Interac said in a statement.
Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa and Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law, said the Rogers outage “must be a wake-up call for a government that has been dormant on digital policy.”
“Canadians deserve answers that explain not only how this happened, but how we find ourselves in a situation where faulty routers at a company cause a nationwide payment system to go down, government services to go offline, and emergency services to become inaccessible . ‘ Geist wrote in a blog post on Sunday.
He urged the CRTC to start a process to investigate the disruption and hold a parliamentary hearing on the broader issues “as this is a matter that requires both regulatory and political action.”
“There is no need to wait: these hearings must take place this month with the aim of determining the scope and source of the problem and potential actions to mitigate future damage,” he wrote.