Rogers outage leads to questions about compensation and competition as service rumbles back to life

As everything from debit cards to 911 services trickled back to life a day after a nationwide outage at Rogers, fury continued to mount at the company, while CEO Tony Staffieri finally shed some light on just what went wrong.

In a statement late Saturday afternoon, Staffieri blamed “a network system failure following a maintenance update,” for one of the worst telecommunications outages the country has ever seen.

“We let you down yesterday. You have my personal commitment that we can, and will, do better,” said Staffieri.

That wasn’t good enough for consumer advocates, small businesses and ordinary Canadians, who continued to vent their frustrations with the outage, both on social media and in official complaints to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the country’s telecom regulator.

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre, in an open letter to CRTC Secretary General Claude Doucet, said the CRTC should immediately launch a probe of the Rogers outage, and should also take a closer look at all communications providers in the country.

“We request that the Commission … (examine) whether all telecommunications service providers (TSPs) in Canada should be required to meet a baseline of emergency planning, refund requirements, notice and transparency and other consumer protections, interconnection, wholesale and other requirements as conditions of service to operate in Canada,” PIAC executive director John Lawford wrote in the letter.

Patricia Valladao, a spokeswoman for the CRTC 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 said.

Richard Leblanc, a professor of governance, law and ethics at York University said the outage makes it clear that the federal government can’t just rely on telecom companies to do the right thing.

“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.

Interac, which operates the national debit network and E-transfer system, said Saturday that it was back to business as usual after being knocked out of service Friday. In a written statement, the company said it’s planning to add a second telecommunications provider, to help give it some backup options in case of another outage.

“Moving forward we are adding a supplier to strengthen our existing network redundancy so Canadians can continue to rely on Interac daily,” said Interac spokesperson Bryan Bossin.

Interac usually processes 18 million transactions per day, Bossin added.

Many of those transactions are ordinarily at small businesses, which rely on Interac as a relatively low-cost payment system. Having Interac sales — and in many cases, online ordering — disrupted by the Rogers outage was the last thing those businesses needed after suffering through two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, said the head of a small business association.

“Just when they were starting to emerge out from under what they’ve been through, this happens,” said Dan Kelly, president and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

Some businesses were likely out thousands of dollars in sales on the day because of the outage, Kelly said.

He wasn’t optimistic that they’ll be adequately reimbursed by Rogers, even though the company has said it will be issuing refunds.

“It had better be a lot more than 1/30th of their monthly Rogers bill,” said Kelly. “There needs to be some recognition of the lost income that this cost them.”

Rogers also warned customers against falling for a text message scam claiming to be from the company and providing a link to click for refunds.

“We will apply the credit proactively to your account & no action is required. If you receive a suspicious SMS, please forward it to 7726 (SPAM),” Rogers said.

Kelly predicted that many business owners who had been Rogers-only customers will now start exploring other options, just as Interac is.

“I’d be shocked if they didn’t,” said Kelly, who’s also not hopeful business owners will be able to make a claim under their business interruption insurance.

“We’ve seen during COVID that business interruption insurance hasn’t been particularly helpful,” said Kelly.

Most business interruption insurance wouldn’t cover something like the Rogers outage, said an executive with the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

“They need to get in touch with their agent, and take a close look at the details of their specific policy, but typically, something like this wouldn’t be covered,” said Rob de Pruis, the IBC’s national director of consumer and industry relations.

Some policies may have “service interruption” clauses, but that’s more typically used for power outages, de Pruis said.

With files from The Canadian Press

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