Ottawa announces it will require telecom companies to provide backup for each other during outages after Rogers system failure

Ottawa says it will require Canadian telecommunications companies to reach formal agreements within 60 days to provide mutual assistance to each other during outages, offer emergency wandering service to customers of its rivals and come up with a clear plan on how to communicate with the public about network. failures.

The Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry François-Philippe Champagne announced the government’s demands on Monday afternoon after a telephone meeting with the CEOs of the country’s largest telecommunications companies following a widespread outage of Rogers service.

“Let’s be clear, this failure was a failure of Rogers and their system,” said Champagne, who added that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) will launch a formal investigation into the disruption.

Rogers ’internet, cable and wireless networks were all disabled on Friday, hitting payment services, 911 availability and connectivity for more than 12 million customers, including subscribers to mobile phone brands Trust, Chatr and Cityfone.

The outage, which lasted well into the weekend for many users, was caused by a maintenance update to Rogers ’core network, CEO Tony Staffieri said in a statement Saturday and in emails to customers on Sunday morning.

It caused days of chaos for some and prompted Champagne to demand a meeting with the CEOs of Rogers, Bell, Telus, Shaw, Quebecor, SaskTel and Eastlink. He told reporters on Monday that he had spent more than an hour talking with the business leaders and that they had “unanimously agreed” to his requests.

“I demanded that they take immediate initial steps to improve the resilience of our networks,” Champagne said, adding that the CRTC process could lead to further changes. “Obviously we have to do a much deeper dive to really understand the root cause of what happened.”

The minister said the telecommunications already have informal agreements to help each other in times of emergency and are in fact ready to help Rogers.

“What happened over the weekend would go beyond what we saw or the type of help that could be offered,” Champagne said when asked if a formal agreement would have even helped.

But he suggested it couldn’t hurt to be more prepared in the future. “On the other hand, we don’t know the nature of any future failure we might have in our core network.”

In a statement Monday evening, Saffieri once again apologized to frustrated Canadians and said he was grateful for the government’s help during the outage. He said the company is “unified” with the country’s other telecommunications.

“We are all committed to solutions to protect Canadians from major failures. In this spirit we will continue to work together to improve the reliability of each of our networks going forward, including through formal agreements on mutual support and other means proposed by the Minister today.

In separate statements on Monday, Telus CEO Darren Entwistle said “our team is ready and willing to work” with the minister while Bell CEO Mirko Bibic said “recent events” emphasized the importance of his own company’s online investments.

The minister’s announcement came amid demands for better consumer protection, questions about what exactly happened and some skepticism about whether the government and CRTC will take decisive action to hold Rogers and the industry more broadly accountable.

“This government especially over the last two years has really avoided an aggressive approach when it comes to the telecommunications companies,” said Michael Geist, the Canadian president of research on internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa, previously said. in the day. “Maybe this (malfunction) will change things.”

Geist said the sector needs automatic access to compensation for failures that goes beyond proportional credit for the time customers are out of service and recognizes the outward impact of being offline.

Small businesses, for example, were unable to process online orders, use delivery apps or process transactions on Friday, said Dan Kelly, the head of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, who is asking small business owners to receive a free month of. Rogers service.

“I would appear that (the malfunction) will become a wake-up call, that the compensation structure for malfunctions is close to non-existent. And to the extent that it exists, it is completely inadequate,” Geist said.

“That’s partly on the government and partly on CRTC that has been pretty comfortable over the last few years giving some free pass to the telecom companies.”

Former CRTC president Jean-Pierre Blais also slammed the CRTC’s current leadership for being too easy for the industry’s largest companies. (His successor as president, Ian Scott, is due to being replaced by the federal government in September when his five-year term expires.)

“I don’t think the CRTC is the body to do such an investigation,” Blais wrote on LinkedIn. “They’ve become trapped to the big players.”

CRTC spokeswoman Patricia Valladao said Monday that the commission “supports the minister’s announcement made today.” She did not comment on the timing or format of the investigation, but said the CRTC will have more to say on Tuesday.

“They have to do it while the evidence is still fresh in the minds of people at Rogers,” said John Lawford, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Center (PIAC), who made a formal request for the CRTC to launch an investigation on Friday. .

Lawford noted that the incident occurred just over a year after Rogers had a major wireless outage and issued similar reassurances and promises of compensation. “Just having Rogers’ word that ‘Don’t worry everyone, we’re in it’ is not enough.”

Champagne said he was “very clear with the CEO of Rogers that I expect Rogers to fully and proactively reward his customers. We’ll see what they do.”

Rogers also faced criticism for failing to inform customers of the outage or providing a quick timeline for the return of service, and Champagne said many Canadians “felt the information was missing.”

More details would come in the formal agreements, but he said, “The spirit is about better informing consumers, small businesses and authorities when such things happen.”

Rogers is trying to get Shaw into a $ 26-billion deal and some critics have said the failure illustrates the risks of too much consolidation in the industry and is another reason for the government to block the transaction.

Asked about the deal on Monday, Champagne said the government had prioritized affordability and competition in the telecommunications sector, but the focus on Monday was network resistance.

With files from The Canadian Press


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