Ottawa calls on telecom companies to shore up networks after Rogers outage

Canada's industry minister says he is calling on Rogers and other telecommunication companies to come up with a plan to bolster the resiliency of Canada's cellular and internet networks after Friday's massive outage left millions offline and affected some critical services.

Industry minister demanding plan to mitigate service disruptions caused by future outages

Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry François-Philippe Champagne said a plan to address service disruptions during outages would be only a 'first step.' (Petras Malukas/AFP/Getty Images)

Canada's industry minister says he is calling on Rogers and other telecommunication companies to come up with a plan to bolster the resiliency of Canada's cellular and internet networks after Friday's massive outage left millions offline and affected some critical services.

On Monday, François-Philippe Champagne convened a meeting of telecom CEOs — including Rogers' Tony Staffieri — to talk about ways to prevent similar service disruptions in future.

"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," he said.

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

Champagne said the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) will launch an investigation into the outage. In a statement issued to CBC, the independent body didn't confirm plans to investigate.

Champagne said that, in the meantime, he wants to see the companies come up with a plan within 60 days for mitigating the impact of future outages on consumers.

A sign on the drive-through menu board of a McDonald's restaurant warns customers that they'll have to pay cash on July 8, 2022 in Newcastle, Ontario. (Doug Ives/The Canadian Press)

That plan, he said, should ensure telecom companies offer mutual assistance during outages and no customers are left without access to 911 service. Champagne said he's also asking companies to come up with a "communications protocol" to keep Canadians informed during such outages.

Following Monday's meeting, Staffieri said he welcomed Champagne's suggestions and Rogers would work with other companies to bring the plan into action.

"We are united in our commitment to ensuring strong, reliable wireless and internet connections that meet the high standards Canadians expect," the Rogers CEO said in a statement.

Champagne said that such a plan would only be a "first step." Asked if new regulations or rules to protect consumers are on the horizon, he didn't elaborate.

Opposition calling for committee investigation

Conservative MP Gérard Deltell, the party's innovation, science and industry critic, said Conservatives would be open to policy changes but would first like to know what caused the outage.

"Does that mean, you know, a brand new law to address it? I'm not quite sure, but we are open to discussion on that," Deltell said.

For now, the Conservatives are calling on Parliament's industry and technology committee to look into the outage.

"First and foremost we need to understand why it happened," Deltell said.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said his party would support a parliamentary investigation. He went further than his Conservative counterparts by calling on the government to enact new regulations and break up large telecommunication companies like Rogers to promote more competition.

"There's no question the federal government has the power to properly regulate the telecommunications sector in this country and should do so, just like we have standards around the quality of food, good and safety guidelines," he said.

Experts call for improved consumer protection

A class action lawsuit was launched in Quebec on Monday alleging that Rogers violated the province's consumer protection laws.

The company said Friday that it would be "proactively crediting all customers" but did not provide further details. 

But the wording in Rogers' customer contracts puts strict limits on its liability, said Marina Pavlović, a legal expert from the University of Ottawa who specializes in telecommunications.

"Their contract actually says that they're not guaranteeing uninterrupted service and there is a long clause which is like over a page long that talks about their limitation of liability," Pavlović said, adding that Rogers is not unique in that regard.

WATCH: Ottawa wants telecoms to create backup system in wake of Rogers outage: 

Ottawa demands telecoms create backup plan for network outages

1 year ago
Duration 2:40
Featured VideoThe federal government is giving the big three telecommunications companies 60 days to agree on a plan for assistance during service outages; emergency roaming; and communication about major disruptions.

Pavlović said new regulations and oversight would help protect consumers but it could take some time for the CRTC to enact and enforce new rules.

Fenwick McKelvey, an assistant professor of information and communications technology policy at Concordia University in Montreal, said Friday's outage will put more pressure on the federal government to enact new regulations.

"There's an important shift taking place where we used to think about the internet or mobile phone services as a luxury, and now I think they're an essential good," he said.


Darren Major

CBC Journalist

Darren Major is a senior writer for CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He can be reached via email at darren.major@cbc.ca.