Rogers Telecommunications restores service after 19 hour outage disrupting life in Canada

Rogers Communications Inc. said its network was beginning to recover late on Friday after a 19-hour service outage at one of Canada’s biggest telecom operators shut banking, transport and government access for millions, drawing outrage from customers and adding to criticism over its industry dominance.

The outage shut down internet access, cell phone and landline phone connections. Some callers could not reach emergency services via 911 calls, police across Canada said.  The disruption also prompted a health-care network in Toronto to ask physicians who were on call Friday to “physically come into the hospital for the shift.”

The total communications blackout was Rogers’ second in 15 months. It began around 4:30 a.m. ET (0830 GMT) and knocked out a quarter of Canada’s observable internet connectivity, said the NetBlocks monitoring group.

Canadians crowded into cafes and public libraries that still had internet access and hovered outside hotels to catch a signal. Canada’s border services agency said the outage affected its mobile app for incoming travelers. Retailers’ cashless pay systems went down; banks reported issues with ATM services.

Rogers (RCIb.TO) said in a statement on Twitter that “our wireless services are starting to recover” and workers are trying to get people back online as quickly as possible.

In a separate statement on its website, Rogers President and Chief Executive Officer Tony Staffieri apologized for the outage, saying: “Today we let you down. We can and will do better.”

We know you count on Rogers to connect you to emergency services, make payments, serve your customers, connect with work and keep in touch with friends and family. We take that responsibility very seriously and today we let you down. We can and will do better.

As you know, we experienced a network outage across both wireless and wireline service that began early this morning.

We have made meaningful progress towards bringing our networks back online and many of our wireless customers are starting to see services return. We don’t yet have an ETA on when our networks will be fully restored but we will continue to share information with our customers as we restore full service.

We know going a full day without connectivity has real impacts on our customers, and all Canadians. On behalf of all of us here at Rogers, Rogers for Business, Fido, chatr and cityfone, I want to sincerely apologize for this service interruption and the impact it is having on people from coast to coast to coast.

Rogers appoints Tony Staffieri as permanent president and CEOPhoto Credit: Toronto Star

Staffieri explained that the company doesn’t have a timeline on when the networks will be fully restored, “but we will continue to share information with our customers as we restore full services.”  He said a credit would be applied to affected customers.

A spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said Friday evening that the outage was not the result of a cyber attack.

Cloudflare Inc., a global cloud-services provider, said Friday its analysis indicated the outage was due to an internal error at Rogers as the telecommunications company apparently tried to upgrade certain equipment that helps internet data flow through networks. A similar mistake hit Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp in the fall of last year, triggering an outage that lasted about six hours.

The disruption also made transport and flight bookings more difficult at the height of the summer travel season.   Transport Canada has not received reports of direct safety or security impacts to any flights, marine or rail services as part of this outage, according to spokesperson Sau Liu.

With about 10 million wireless subscribers and 2.25 million retail internet subscribers, Rogers is the top provider in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province and home to its biggest city, Toronto. Rogers, BCE Inc (BCE.TO) and Telus Corp (T.TO) control 90% of the market share in Canada.

Canadian Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne in a tweet called the situation “unacceptable” and said he was in communication with telecom CEOs, including those from Rogers, Bell and Telus, to find a solution.

Canadian financial institutions and banks, including Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD.TO) and Bank Of Montreal (BMO.TO), said the outage disrupted services. Royal Bank of Canada (RY.TO) said its ATMs and online banking services were affected.

A spokesperson for Vancouver International airport, among Canada’s busiest, said travelers could not pay for parking, use terminal ATMs or purchase items at airport retailers.

Air Canada (AC.TO), the country’s largest airline, said its call center had been affected. Airlines in Canada, like those in Europe and the United States, have been experiencing high call volume amid flight cancellations and delays due to pandemic staffing shortages.

Critics said the outage demonstrated a need for more competition in telecom for Canada.

Earlier this year, Canada’s competition bureau blocked Rogers’ attempt to take over rival Shaw Communications (SJRb.TO) in a C$20 billion deal, saying it would hamper competition in a country where telecom rates are some of the world’s highest. The merger still awaits a final verdict. read more

“Today’s outage illustrates the need for more independent competition that will drive more network investment so outages are far less likely,” said Anthony Lacavera, managing director of Globealive, an investment firm that had bid for a wireless provider involved in the Rogers/Shaw deal.

On Friday, some government agencies canceled services after losing internet access, including Canada’s passport offices and the telecoms regulator. The Canada Revenue Agency, the country’s tax collection body, lost telephone service.

In downtown Ottawa, Canada’s capital, cafes including Tim Hortons were not accepting debit and credit cards and were turning away customers who did not have cash.

Michelle Wasylyshen, spokeswoman for the Retail Council of Canada, said outages would vary from one retailer to the next: “Cash will most certainly be king at many stores today.”

While the disruptions were widespread, several companies and transport points said their services were unaffected. The Port of Montreal reported no disruptions. The Calgary Airport Authority said it had “no major operational impacts.”


A message from Tony Staffieri, President and CEO at Rogers: