Rogers CEO apologizes for massive service outage, blames maintenance update

The fallout from a massive network outage at Rogers Communications that shut down mobile and internet services across much of Canada continued to come into focus on Saturday, even as the company restored most services and began offering an explanation as to what happened.

The widespread disruption, which got underway early Friday morning, paralyzed communications across a number of sectors, including health care, law enforcement and the financial industry. Many 911 services couldn’t receive incoming calls, several hospitals reported impacts to their services and debit transactions were paused when Interac was knocked offline.

Small business owners were among those hardest hit by the outage, which left them unable to process debit card payments.

Sharif Ahmed, the owner of Plantforsoul plant shop in Toronto’s west end, said the outage left him feeling helpless, as he turned away customers who didn’t have cash.

“It pretty much stopped my business,” he said in an interview on Saturday. “Most of the people, they don’t use cash anymore, so pretty much, I sat down in my office doing nothing.”

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Major Rogers outage hits businesses, customers across Canada

Rogers customers were caught off guard by Friday’s massive outage involving both mobile and internet networks, which also caused widespread disruption for banks, businesses and some emergency services across Canada.

Suddenly not being able to take card payments is a “big problem,” he said. “We just can’t stop, we’re paying rent and everything.”

At nearby Caked Coffee, owner Supreet Arora said people came in thinking it was just their Wi-Fi and cellphones that were affected — only to find out that the café also had no Wi-Fi.

“They came in [and] you want to help them out, [but] there’s no Wi-Fi here,” he said in an interview on Saturday.

Arora said he kept forgetting to tell people he was only able to take cash until he’d made their food, so he served them anyway, noting that many people came back to pay on Saturday.

Late Saturday afternoon, Rogers president and CEO Tony Staffieri said service had been restored and that the company’s “networks and systems are close to fully operational.”

Rogers CEO Tony Staffieri, shown in Toronto in April 2013, apologized on Saturday for a lengthy network outage the day before that affected customers across the country. (Matthew Sherwood/The Canadian Press)

In a written statement, Staffieri said the company is continuing to monitor its network for issues and investigate the root cause of the outage.

“We now believe we’ve narrowed the cause to a network system failure following a maintenance update in our core network, which caused some of our routers to malfunction early Friday morning,” he said.

Staffieri apologized for the outage, adding that “we’re particularly troubled that some customers could not reach emergency services and we are addressing the issue as an urgent priority.”

‘This could have been catastrophic’

Richard Leblanc, a professor of governance, law and ethics at York University in Toronto, said the outage was a learning opportunity for threat actors, such as Russian state-sponsored hackers, who can now see how vulnerable Canadian industry, financial institutions and health-care systems are to an attack on a telecom provider.

“This could have been catastrophic for the country if this was a threat actor,” he said on Saturday.

Leblanc said the outage — Rogers’ second in significant outage in 15 months — makes it clear that the federal government can’t just rely on telecom companies to do the right thing.

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Rogers service back on for most customers, but not all is restored

The Rogers network outage that disrupted service nationwide is still affecting some customers. The telecom has yet to explain what caused the disruption.

“I think it’s time that regulators — and this includes Industry Canada, the CRTC and the Competition Tribunal — begin to insist on proper, robust, independently audited internal controls, so that you don’t have an outage like this,” he said.

While Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne has described the outage as “unacceptable,” Leblanc said that kind of talk needs to be followed up with action.

“I think regulators have the authority, they have the power. The question is: Do they have the courage to use it?” he said.

A sign at a Vancouver store warns customers on Friday that credit and debit services are down. (Justine Boulin/CBC)

Patricia Valladao, a spokesperson for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, said the telecom regulator is in contact with Rogers.

“Right now, our focus is on the outage and recovering from it. When it is over, we will take all necessary actions to examine what occurred and put in place the necessary measures to prevent it from happening again,” she wrote in an email.

According to Netblocks, a U.K.-based organization that monitors cybersecurity, at its peak the outage knocked out about 25 per cent of Canada’s observable internet connectivity.

People use their devices outside a Starbucks coffee shop in Toronto amid the nationwide Rogers outage on Friday. (Alex Lupul/CBC)

Rogers said it will proactively credit customers for the outage, but it provided no details about the amount. The company said it is aware of spam text messages claiming to offer the credit and that customers will be credited automatically.

Leblanc said he expects to see class-action lawsuits — and suits by individual firms — attempt to quantify the cost of the outage.

“Lawyers are good at that, so if there’s a class action, they can measure the loss of productivity, the opportunity cost of not being able to work, missed meetings, missed opportunities, missed contracts. It is significant,” he said. “If all of these millions of people lose a day of their working life, they’re not going to be made whole by a credit.”

Rogers did not reply to multiple requests for comment on Saturday from The Canadian Press about the number of customers affected and the credit that customers will receive.

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By Jon Doe