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Rogers CEO apologizes for outage, says it came after network maintenance update

Small business owners were among those hardest hit by the outage

By Jacob Serebrin and Tyler Griffin

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 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 Saturday. “Most of the people, they don’t use cash anymore, so pretty much, I sat down in my office doing nothing.”

Abruptly losing the ability 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 customers came in thinking it was just their wifi and cell phones that were affected — only to find out that the café also had no wifi.

“They came in you want to help them out, (but) there’s no wifi here,” he said.

He said he kept forgetting to tell people he was only able to take cash until after he’d made their food. He served them anyway, adding many patrons later returned to settle their bills.

Rogers Chief Executive Officer Tony Staffieri issued a statement on Saturday afternoon saying service had been restored and the company’s “networks and systems are close to fully operational.”

He said the company is continuing to monitor its network for problems and investigate the root cause of the issues.  

“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.”

Richard Leblanc, a professor of Governance, Law and Ethics at Toronto’s York University, said the outage presents a learning opportunity for threat actors such as Russian state-sponsored hackers. He said such parties 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 in a telephone interview.

Leblanc said the outage — Rogers’ second significant one in 15 months – 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 (Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission) 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. 

CRTC spokeswoman Patricia Valladao said the telecom regulator is in contact with Rogers. 

“Right now, our focus is on the outage and recovering from it,” she wrote in an email. “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.” 

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

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

Leblanc said he expects to see class-action lawsuits, as well as legal action from individual firms, which will 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 Saturday from The Canadian Press about the number of customers affected and the credit that customers will receive. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 9, 2022.

Companies in this story: (TSX:RCI.B)

Banner image: A Rogers wireless store in Toronto amid a country wide outage of the telecommunication company’s services, Friday, July 8, 2022. Questions remain as Rogers Communications continues to restore service after a network outage that affected customers across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston