By Nojoud Al Mallees, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — Canada’s industry minister has directed the country’s major telecom companies to reach agreements on emergency roaming, assisting each other during outages and a communication protocol to better inform Canadians during emergencies.
François-Philippe Champagne also said that Canada’s broadcast regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, will investigate the recent massive Rogers Communications outage.
Champagne made the announcement on Monday after a meeting with executives of the major telecom companies. The aim of the meeting was to “demand they take immediate action to improve the resiliency and reliability of our networks,” he said.
“The national outage of telecom services that millions of Canadians experienced in the last few days is unacceptable. Full stop. It affected people across the country, emergency services, small and medium-size businesses and payment systems,” he said on Twitter.
“Canadians deserve more from their providers in terms of quality and reliability of service and I will ensure they meet the high standard that Canadians expect, including improving competition, innovation and affordability.”
The minister said the agreements between the telecom companies on emergency roaming and other policies must be in place within 60 days. Emergency roaming would give customers the ability to switch to another carrier during an outage.
“This is very much similar to what the Federal Communications Commission did in the United States,” said Champagne in a teleconference with journalists on Monday.
The industry minister said this formal agreement between the Canadian telecom companies is just the first step.
However, Champagne did not provide any clarity about whether the outage will prompt new policies to promote competition in the telecom industry.
Keldon Bester, a fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation and the co-founder of the Canadian Anti-Monopoly Project, said the outage highlights the need for more competition in Canadian telecommunications.
“It would be incorrect to say a lack of competition caused the blackout,” said Bester. “But a number of elements of our telecommunications regulation as well as the competition system increase the scope of the alarm when it occurs.”
Although increasing competition is the most critical avenue of action in Bester’s view, he said there are other policies that can help mitigate the impact of outages, including allowing emergency roaming and addressing condominium exclusivity requirements.
A Rogers spokesperson said in a statement ahead of Monday’s meeting that the company and other industry peers will meet with Champagne “to discuss increasing Canada’s telecommunications network resiliency.”
“We are supportive of initiatives that further strengthen Canada’s critical telecommunication infrastructure.”
Champagne said there was unanimous agreement among all companies Monday that change is needed.
“Everyone acknowledged this was unacceptable, that we need to work together for better reliability and quality, and certainly that there was a willingness to learn from each other,” he said.
The widespread Rogers service outage began on Friday morning and lasted at least 15 hours, knocking out access to many health-care, law enforcement and banking services.
Rogers CEO Tony Staffieri has attributed the outage to a network system failure after a maintenance update, adding that the “vast majority” of customers were back online.
But some customers reported service disruptions stretching into Sunday, and Rogers issued a statement acknowledging some were still experiencing service disruptions it described as intermittent.
In a statement, Conservative industry critic Gérard Deltell said Canadians should get an explanation about what happened as well as what steps are being taken to ensure the outage doesn’t occur again.
“Rogers and officials from the government need to publicly answer these questions,” said Deltell.
The NDP had called for the Liberals and CRTC to launch a formal investigation into the Rogers outage.
“Minister Champagne meeting with Rogers as a top priority shows that the Liberals are fixated on protecting the profits of telecom giants instead of helping Canadians,” said NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh in a statement before the minister’s announcement.
“We will be looking at bringing Rogers, Interac and Minister Champagne to committee to figure out what happened, and to make sure this never happens again.”