Breakdown at Rogers | Calls could not be forwarded to 911

(OTTAWA) A protocol to route 911 calls from Rogers customers to another network already existed, but it failed during the outage that hit the telecom giant on July 8. This information, revealed by its President and CEO in a parliamentary committee on Monday, casts doubt on the agreement that the main players in this industry must reach to ensure that emergency calls can be made at all times.

Posted at 6:11 am
Updated at 2:15 p.m

Mylene Crete

Mylene Crete
The press

“I didn’t ask them, I asked them to sign a formal contract,” stressed the Minister for Innovation, Science and Industry, François-Philippe Champagne, during his testimony before the Industry and Technology Committee.

This emergency meeting was organized by Parliamentary work in the middle of the summer recess to shed light on the outage that left around 10 million Rogers Communications customers out of service.

The “unprecedented” outage caused by a software update hit “the brains of our network,” new chief technology officer Ron McKenzie said. The implementation of this update was planned in seven phases and there were no disruptions in the previous five phases. Preliminary tests had not revealed any abnormalities either.

“We weren’t the most reliable network in Canada that day,” admitted Rogers CEO Tony Staffieri. “Canadians need to be able to connect with family, businesses need to be able to accept payments, and most importantly, 911 calls just need to work every time. »

Minister Champagne repeated several times on Monday that he had ordered the bosses of Rogers and other major telecoms companies to “make a formal deal” to prevent another outage from crippling 911 calls and the Interac payment system.

However, Rogers had already made arrangements to route emergency calls to another telecommunications network.

“We had protocol in place to ensure 911 and other essential emergency services would be ported to an alternate network,” Staffieri said in response to a question from Conservative MP Tracy Gray.

For very specific technical reasons, this automatic transfer did not take place.

Tony Staffieri, CEO of Rogers

He repeatedly avoided saying whether he considered Rogers’ services, particularly mobile telephony, to be an essential service.

He pointed out that the agreement to guarantee access to emergency services requested by Minister Champagne would be concluded with the other major players in the sector within a period of sixty days. Other questions about the reliability of access to 911 services under this agreement were not asked by parliamentarians.

The CEO also defended the controversial Shaw acquisition, which will offer “an alternative network”. This transaction was not authorized at this time.

Hours before the Minister’s notification

Mr Staffieri said he regretted not notifying Minister Champagne’s office immediately on the day of the breakdown as it affected access to emergency services. He only contacted the government shortly before noon. The collapse had been raging since early morning. He also regretted not having contacted Quebec Premier François Legault before the evening.

During his testimony, François-Philippe Champagne reiterated that it was not for the minister to “follow” the CEO of one of the country’s largest telecoms companies to find out what was going on, but that it should be the other way around. Rogers Communications should have notified its office immediately that a major outage would affect services like 911 and direct payments.

In the days following that service disruption, he spoke to the big boss of Rogers and those of other telecom companies to demand that they reach an agreement within sixty days to provide emergency roaming and mutual support in the event of outages.

He also asked them to develop a communication protocol to better inform the public and authorities during these types of emergencies. In addition to delaying notification of the government, Rogers had taken several hours to notify its customers of the outage.

Conservative MPs Bernard Généreux and New Democrat Brian Masse did not hide their skepticism. “What is the penalty if the companies cannot agree?” Mr Généreux asked.

“It was not the time for opinions,” said Minister Champagne, specifying that they were listening to him because of his role as a regulator. He added that he had received their commitment that this deal would be finalized and that “this is just the beginning”.

“We had the minister [Maxime] Bernier in your front seat and political orientations haven’t changed much,” argued Mr Masse. The good will of the bosses of telecommunications companies should not “depend on their good will or on whether you play golf with them or not”.

Rogers announced Sunday that it has reached an agreement with other service providers to automatically forward 911 calls to other telecommunications networks in the event of another outage.

The company also said it will physically separate its mobile and internet services to ensure customers no longer experience an outage of either. It plans to allocate $10 billion over the next three years to improve its services, including further monitoring and testing and increased use of artificial intelligence.

Like the outage a year and a half ago, the one on July 8 was caused by a software update. Rogers Communications says it has partnered with tech companies to conduct a comprehensive review of its network and learn from it.

That service disruption had raised questions about the lack of competition in Canada’s telecoms sector, which is dominated by three major players across the country: Rogers, BCE Inc. and Telus Corp. The issue was rarely raised during Minister Champagne’s testimony.

Rogers is trying to get the authorities to give him the go-ahead to acquire Shaw, another telecommunications company primarily based in western Canada. The transaction worth 26 billion. The competition authority is against it. The case is now before the court.

With the Canadian Press

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