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

The outage lasted more than 15 hours

Questions remain as Rogers Communications continues to restore service after a network outage that affected customers across the country.

The outage, which lasted more than 15 hours, affected mobile and internet users, preventing calls to 911 services in some Canadian cities, knocking out ATMs and shutting down the Interac payments system.

Sharif Ahmed, the owner for 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.”

Suddenly not being able 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 people 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 in an interview Saturday.

He said he kept forgetting to tell people he was only able to take cash until he’d made their food, but served them anyways, adding that many people came back to pay on Saturday.

Late Saturday afternoon, Rogers CEO Tony Staffieri said that service had been restored and that the company’s “networks and systems are close to fully operational.”

In a written statement, Staffieri said the company is continuing to monitor its network for issues 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 professor of Governance, Law and Ethics at York University, said the outage was a learning opportunity for threat actors, like Russian state-sponsored hackers, who 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 an interview Saturday.

Leblanc said the outage — Rogers’ second in significant outage in 15 months – makes it clear that the federal government can’t just rely on telecoms companies to do the right thing.

“I think it’s time that regulators, and this includes Industry Canada, the CRTC 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.

Patricia Valladao, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission said the telecom regulator is in contact with Rogers.

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

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

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 that customers will be credited automatically.

Leblanc, said he expects to see class action lawsuits — and suits by individual firms — 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.

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Jacob Serebrin and Tyler Griffin, The Canadian Press