British Columbia

Phone outages frustrating enough, but lack of timely information makes people furious

Phone and internet service disruptions on Saturday rendered phones useless, left security systems offline and people frustrated and unable to pay for parking or take customer calls.

‘It shows the weaknesses in the system,' says Calgary man whose alarm system failed after B.C. landslide

Cellphone and landline service from three major telecom providers across B.C. have been causing problems for people since Saturday afternoon. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Phone and internet service disruptions on Saturday rendered phones useless, left security systems offline and people frustrated and unable to pay for parking or take customer calls.

The outages continue to affect phone users as far away as Calgary.

Record-breaking January rainfall in parts of southern B.C. caused landslides which damaged fibre optic cables, according to the telecommunications providers.

But Bell, Rogers and Virgin mobility have not provided much more of an explanation about how and why it affected their various services. 

Most of the service was restored by 10 p.m. PT Sunday, according to Bell and Rogers, but some people say they are still experiencing problems, raising concerns about internet or phone service during a larger disaster.

According to Rogers, their data wireless service was quickly restored Saturday, shortly after the landslides affected fibre lines, but they say some customers experienced problems from other providers making or receiving calls.

Bell Mobility and Virgin Mobile services were back to normal by Sunday night. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the regulator for telecommunication service providers, says it's reached out to both companies for details about how the outages occurred and what was done to fix them.

Heavy rains caused a mudslide to washout much of Hemlock Valley Road on Friday evening as record rainfalls hit the South Coast. (Submitted by Marketa Kapur )

'It shows the weaknesses in the system'

While Bell and Rogers communications staff say their services are almost 100 per cent restored, some people continue to report problems.

Calgarian Bob Baird says he was awakened at 3 a.m. Monday morning when his alarm system started beeping, saying there was a communications error. When he finally got through to the Saskatchewan-based security company, Securtek, he said he was told the communications failure had something to do with a landslide that damaged the system in B.C.

Baird is concerned about how many homes security systems are offline because of this — and how many other people have been affected.

"It shows the weaknesses in the system if one fibre optic cable gets knocked out," said Baird.

"It's not just in B.C. We are having troubles here in Calgary. I just wonder if they are aware of the impact," he said.

Emergency Management BC, the province's lead co-ordinating agency for all emergencies, said, in an email to CBC News, it was concerned about the outage's impact on people across the province.

"Once EMBC learned of the outage, a critical infrastructure co-ordination call was held with telecom and railway service providers and Industry Canada," read the email. "Industry Canada has been following up directly with telecom providers to make sure affected local governments and First Nations are aware of the situation."

The provincial agency noted the mudslide is a reminder of the importance of having an emergency kit with provisions for 72 hours to one week.

In Vancouver, people trying to park downtown could not pay.

Murial Richards was visiting friends when she parked on Cambie Street and walked away from a paid up meter. When she tried to use a parking app to top it up, she discovered it didn't work and raced back to the car, three minutes after a ticket was issued.

Richards thought her phone was the problem. But later she realized there were system-wide issues.

"I'm just wondering how many people got caught in that mess? If there's parking enforcement people out there everywhere, it could be hundreds or thousands. Quite often they'll say you just have to pay cash," she said.

Richards plans to dispute the $46 ticket and suspects she will not be alone.

A Vancouver woman is planning to fight this ticket. She could not get the parking app to work because of phone outages. (Muriel Richards)

Nor was she the only person in Vancouver affected by the phone outages.

Vancouver midwife Jesse Brown relies on her phone.

When Brown's clients call, they often really need to reach her, sometimes for an imminent birth. Brown was working with a patient in labour all day on Saturday. When she finally had a second to check her phone, she realized she wasn't receiving texts or service.

Bell offered no estimate as to how long service might be down or why. So, she used her husband's phone, because his service provider was Rogers.

Then Sunday, she discovered Rogers was also having trouble 

"We couldn't reach patients. Patients couldn't reach us," she said.

"I think the most frustrating part was the lack of information. This is a company that is advertising that they provide the best network coverage. They have the best connections and don't have outages.

"All these things felt a little bit ironic, especially through the Super Bowl, as they had commercials literally saying they had the best Canadian network. They've just done a 'Let's Talk' campaign and we can't even talk to anyone," she said.

Customers who lost service can request a credit directly from Bell or Rogers for the time period that they were without service. If they are refused, they can file a complaint with the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services (CCTS).

CBC has messaged the City of Vancouver for information about how parking fines will be handled. We also requested interviews with Rogers and Bell.


Yvette Brend is a Vancouver journalist.

With files from Eva Uguen-Csenge


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