Politics

CRTC ordering Rogers to explain in detail what caused massive network outage

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is ordering Rogers to explain in detail what caused last week's network outage, how it affected emergency services and what the company plans to do to compensate customers.

Rogers has yet to explain fully what caused the outage

Drone shot of Rogers Communications headquarters at 1 Mt Pleasant Rd, Toronto on 22 Oct 2021. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is ordering Rogers to explain in detail what caused last week's network outage, how it affected emergency services and what the company plans to do to compensate customers.

In a letter addressed to Ted Woodhead, Rogers' senior vice president of regulatory affairs, the CRTC chided Rogers for not being fully transparent with its customers.

"In the first several hours of the outage, it became clear that Rogers was either unable to reassure, or ineffective in reassuring, its customers and providing critical information about what to expect," the letter reads.

Rogers has yet to explain in detail what caused the outage. Company CEO Tony Staffieri released a statement Saturday blaming a network system failure following a maintenance update. He didn't provide further details.

The CRTC listed dozens of questions it wants Rogers to answer. Among other things, it wants Rogers to explain the root cause of the outage and how they plan to honour Staffieri's promise to proactively credit customers' accounts.

The outage left some customers unable to call 911, despite rules in place meant to ensure that cellphones are able to contact the emergency number even when they don't have service. The CRTC is asking Rogers to report how many 911 calls could not be completed during the outage.

The company has until July 22 to respond to the CRTC's questions, the letter says.

On Monday, Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne convened a meeting of telecom CEOs — including Staffieri — to develop a plan to blunt the impact of future outages on consumers.

"I wanted to make sure that in no uncertain terms they understand how Canadians found the situation unacceptable and they need to take immediate initial steps to improve the resiliency of our network in Canada," Champagne told reporters after the meeting.

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The CRTC letter says that a number of customers have contacted the commission to complain, and some have even asked for a public inquiry. The letter didn't rule out a full inquiry but said the company providing answers would be "an initial step."

Technology analyst Ritesh Kotak said the CRTC asking for answers is a "good start," but what follows will depend on Rogers' response.

"It's going to come down to when we see the answers. Will they be the kind of answers we're looking for?" Kotak said.

Yuka Sai, a lawyer with the Public Interest Advocacy Group, said the CRTC's push for accountability may not go far enough and that a public inquiry is the only way for customers and the public to weigh in with their concerns.

"It's really unclear what's going to happen, including when the public can expect to see recommendations from the CRTC or whether there will be a forum for public input," Sai said.

Regardless of what comes out of Rogers' response to the CRTC, Canada needs to be working on ways to prevent such outages in the future, said Carleton University computer engineering professor Ramy Gohary.

"It's an easy fix that we should have a backup network, something that actually can cater to the day-to-day needs. We shouldn't have to face this," Gohary said. "We know these things can happen. How come ... we are not well prepared for it?"

Peter Nowak, a vice president with internet provider Teksavvy, said the government and the CRTC need to push for more competition in the telecommunications industry.

"In many other countries, if one provider goes down, they don't take the whole country with them," Nowak said.

Rogers' outage also affected smaller companies that rely on its network, including TekSavvy. Nowak said Teksavvy is in talks with Rogers to ensure their customers will be compensated as well.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Darren Major

CBC journalist

Darren Major can be reached via email darren.major@cbc.ca or by tweeting him @DMajJourno.

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