Nova Scotia

Telecoms need standardized response to outages, consumer advocate says

Friday's telephone outage throughout Atlantic Canada highlights the need for changes in the telecom industry, says a consumer advocate.

Bell, Telus, Virgin and Koodo down for 4 hours on Friday in outage that affected emergency services

Cellphone service was down in a large part of Atlantic Canada on Friday, compromising the 911 system in some areas. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Friday's telephone outage throughout Atlantic Canada highlights the need for changes in the telecom industry, says a consumer advocate.

The outage, which lasted more than four hours, meant lost business for companies and worries for people in need of emergency services.

Bell reported accidental damage occurred on two different "fibre optic links," causing outages for Bell, Telus, Virgin and Koodo, affecting internet, TV, wireless and landline phones, including some 911 services.

The outage prompted emergency services in St. John's, Saint John, and other Atlantic cities to deploy emergency vehicles at strategic locations for people who couldn't call ambulances using normal methods.

Alysia Lau of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre said the outage was "scary" due to its scope, and said at least three issues should be considered in its fallout.

Sharing infrastructure

She noted that when the Bell network went down, Telus customers were also affected.

"That's something we should probably look into, because if there are two major wireless companies in Canada maybe they should be operating separate wireless networks and their own wireless networks so that when one goes down it's not affecting two sets of customers."

Rogers customers avoided the outage, but Virgin and Koodo, as flank companies of Bell and Telus, respectively, were also affected.

Standardized restoration rules

Lau also said companies are not compelled to respond to outages in a standardized way by providing regular updates and a restoration timeline.

"Now, it's really up to the telecom companies to make the best effort to restore service but telecom services — your phone service, your internet service — [are] so important and essential to the day-to-day life of Canadians now that maybe there needs to be more accountability and more reporting and updates from telecom companies such as Bell when there is a service outage," she said.

She pointed to a Bell outage in Pickerel River, Ont., caused by a cut to an underwater cable, that started in June and stretched to August. 

"We rely so much on communication services that there needs to be more accountability in that area," Lau said.

Continue to invest in landlines

The outage affected both cell service and landlines, but landlines still tend to be more reliable, Lau said.

"We need to make sure until there's a strong, reliable alternative that we continue to invest in landline and make sure that landline is available," she said.

With files from The Canadian Press