Rogers Communications Inc. RCI-A-T CEO Tony Staffieri says the telecom is working to “fully understand the root cause” of a widespread network outage that disrupted internet and cellular service around the country on Friday, blocking payment systems and emergency services and creating chaos for businesses and individuals.
Mr. Staffieri said in a statement late Friday that the telecom has made “meaningful progress towards bringing our networks back online” and that many wireless customers are seeing their services return. However, the Toronto-based telecom still does not have an ETA on when its networks will be fully restored, Mr. Staffieri said.
“We are working to fully understand the root cause of this outage and we will make all the changes necessary to ensure that in the future we meet and exceed your expectations for our networks,” Mr. Staffieri said. He also vowed to proactively credit all customers affected by the outage and said the company would share further details about that compensation shortly.
Rogers has yet to provide details about what caused the outage that began in the early hours of Friday morning and stretched on throughout the day, leaving customers unable to work from home or communicate with friends and family. The service interruption also took down the Interac debit system, forcing some businesses to switch to cash.
The Communications Security Establishment said in a statement that there are currently no indications that the network disruption was related to malicious cyber threats.
The outage underscored how reliant people and businesses have become on internet connectivity for commerce, transportation and communication. And it highlighted Rogers’s prevalence in Canada at a moment when the company is attempting to convince regulators that its proposed $26-billion takeover of Shaw Communications Inc. SJR-A-X would not harm consumers by reducing competition in the telecom industry. The deal has a July 31 deadline.
A previous nationwide Rogers network outage, in April of last year, affected only the company’s wireless customers.
Walter Tufford, who owns an auto detailing shop in Port Elgin, Ont., said Friday’s outage made his business “nearly impossible to run,” because it knocked out his credit and debit machine, as well as the company’s phone line.
“I have to drive home to send any kind of messages out to my clients,” he said.
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Anil Bissa, who owns the Sport Clips Haircuts salon in Orillia, Ont., said he was forced to send his staff home early because his clients, who usually rely on debit and credit, had no way to pay.
“As it is, we are struggling to stay afloat due to the rising costs of everything,” Mr. Bissa said. “Losing a day hurts us tremendously.”
Travellers also faced challenges, such as not having access to GPS for navigation or being unable to pay for gas.
Kevin Martin, who flew from Toronto to Ottawa on Thursday night for a wedding, was waiting to hear from Air Canada about the status of his lost baggage. But without stable internet at his hotel, which relies on Rogers for service, he was unable to monitor the situation and was having difficulty renting a car.
“All in all, what was supposed to be a relaxing weekend has started as stressfully as possible,” he said.
Federal Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne, whose department is reviewing Rogers’s contested takeover of Shaw, said the government has been in touch with the Toronto-based telecom.
“We expressed how important it is that this matter be resolved as soon as possible and for the company to provide prompt and clear communication directly to those impacted,” Mr. Champagne said in a statement, adding that the government will “use any tools at our disposal to ensure Canadians stay connected and the company meets the high standard that Canadians deserve.”
Canada’s Commissioner of Competition is attempting to block the Shaw merger, which would combine the country’s two largest cable networks, arguing that the deal will result in higher prices and poorer service, particularly for cellphone customers. Mediation talks that took place between Rogers, Shaw and the Competition Bureau on Monday and Tuesday failed to resolve the competition watchdog’s objections.
The takeover also requires approval from the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development.
Kaan Yigit, president of Toronto-based consumer research consultancy Solutions Research Group, called the timing of the outage “very unfortunate.”
“It reminds everyone – including those who have to make some decisions that will affect Rogers very soon – how critical this infrastructure is, and how concentrating more of it under one banner would also seem to increase the proportion of the population affected when there is a disruption,” he said in an e-mail.
“Given something like this is impacting us in a way that’s more than just inconvenience … it also makes me think about if there should be more third-party oversight to ensure multiple redundancies in place for these networks,” Mr. Yigit added.
Toronto-Dominion Bank analyst Vince Valentini said in a research note that the outage could prompt some customers to switch carriers and could create “credibility issues” for Rogers as it looks to ramp up sales in the business segment of the market.
“That being said, we do not expect any material or sustained financial implications from this outage,” he said. He added that he expects the telecom will be reimbursed by its software and network vendors for the bill credits it provides to its customers.
Friday’s network outage disrupted Interac debit services both online and at checkout locations, and also interrupted e-transfer services, Interac said in a statement.
Interac’s e-transfer feature has become a popular way to move money. In the 12 months leading up to April this year, the network surpassed one billion e-transfers in Canada, or an average of more than 2.7 million a day. In that year, Canadians transferred $338-billion through the service.
The Canadian Bankers Association (CBA) said earlier Friday in an e-mailed statement that “the majority of bank operations in Canada are unaffected” by the outages. But the issues at Interac affected some debit-card transactions, and banks and their customers reported other sporadic issues.
The CBA said the outage affected “some banking services for customers across the country” and banks were “working to continue to meet their customers’ banking needs at this time.”
Major banks have significant redundancies built into their networks, and most bank branches and automated teller machines were operating normally. Even so, certain locations and machines that use the Rogers network were affected.
Visa Canada’s credit-card network was not affected, though some merchants were unable to use payment terminals that rely on Rogers’s network to process credit-card transactions, according to Visa spokesperson Jessica Culp.
The outage also disrupted emergency services across the country, with several police services saying on Twitter that callers were having problems reaching 911. Ottawa police advised Rogers customers to try calling from landlines or cellphones with different service providers.
Last April’s nationwide Rogers wireless outage lasted 16 hours, just as Canada was grappling with a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The company said at the time that the issue stemmed from a software update by its supplier Ericsson, which caused devices to be disconnected from the Rogers network. It vowed to conduct an in-depth review to prevent similar problems from occurring again.
The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), an Ottawa-based consumer advocacy group, requested that Canada’s telecom regulator open an inquiry into Friday’s outage.
“We do not believe that we are required to justify the seriousness of the disruption faced by consumers and citizens regarding the present outage, which is manifest, and which is particularly egregious in light of a previously reported outage by Rogers in 2021,” John Lawford, PIAC’s executive director, wrote in a letter to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.
The CRTC said on Twitter Friday that its phone lines were affected by the outage.
Rogers had 8.91 million postpaid and 1.15 million prepaid wireless subscribers and 2.25 million retail internet customers at the end of March. (Postpaid subscribers are those who are billed at the end of the month for the services they used, versus prepaid customers, who pay upfront for wireless services.)
Representatives of Telus Corp. T-T and BCE Inc.’s BCE-T Bell Canada said their networks were operating properly, but that connections to and from the Rogers network were disrupted. “Some customers may experience issues when calling or texting Rogers customers,” Telus said in a statement.
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