Champagne orders telcos to produce clear resiliency plan in 60 days

The national outage of telecom services that millions of Canadians experienced in the last few days is “unacceptable — full stop,” federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry François-Philippe Champagne said Monday following a one-hour meeting with the leaders of six Canadian telecom companies.

Speaking to the media after discussions with the chief executive officers of Rogers, Telus, Bell Media, Quebecor’s Videotron, SaskTel, and the Bragg Group’s Eastlink, he said Friday’s outage “affected people across the country, emergency services, small and medium size businesses, and payment systems.

“That’s why today I brought together the heads of the major telecom companies to demand they take immediate action to improve the resiliency and reliability of our networks by ensuring a formal arrangement is in place within 60 days.

“I directed the companies to reach agreements on emergency roaming, mutual assistance during outages, and communication protocol to better inform the public and authorities during telecommunications emergencies. This outage will be investigated by the CRTC as well.”

Describing the move as just the “first step,” Champagne added that 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.

“I’ve expressed the frustration of hundreds of thousands of SMEs that were without electronic payment capability. I’ve expressed the frustration of the emergency services, like 911, that were down for hours.

“And I did say to the CEO of Rogers that I expect them to proactively and fully compensate their customers. I told them in a sense that this was unacceptable, full stop. Once that was said, the focus of the call was very much around resiliency of our network across Canada.”

When asked by a reporter why this kind of disaster had to happen before he stepped in and demanded change, Champagne replied, “let me be clear, there is an informal mutual assistance arrangement between the telcos in Canada.

“But what I want to do and what I’ve demanded today is that we formalize that, and that we define it in very specific terms.”

Telecom consultant Mark Goldberg said today that Friday’s massive outage of the Rogers network should serve to “reaffirm Canada’s telecom policy promoting facilities-based competition.”

In  a blog posted this morning, Goldberg wrote that “we need to be realistic about what happened, and how we can mitigate the consequences of similar network failures. Friday’s network event was unprecedented. I told CHCH-TV News that in over 40 years of my involvement in North American telecom networks, I cannot recall an outage as broad in scale (nation-wide) and scope (spanning mobile and fixed networks, voice and data).

“Still, most Canadians did not lose their communications services. That’s worth repeating. Rogers does not operate a monopoly for any of its service … We didn’t experience a total communications blackout at any point while Rogers was restoring service.

“Customers served by alternate facilities-based providers kept operating. A review of the world’s LTE deployments show that there are 10 LTE networks operating in Canada, compared to nine in the U.S., and three or four in most European countries.”

Meanwhile, independent telecom analyst Jon Arnold, principal of J Arnold & Associates, said the outage underscores the need to have strong safeguards, government policies, and backup procedures in place.

“The main thing that stands out for me is that it just shows how dependent we have become on mobile communications and how helpless we seem to be when something like this happens,” he said.

Xianbin Wang, a professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering at Western University in London, Ont., and Canada Research Chair in 5G and IoT Wireless Communications, called Champagne’s order to wireless telcos to agree on 911 call roaming “a useful idea.”

“We need to maintain support of this critical service under emergency situations. Disregard there are technical issues due to the different frequencies used by service providers, and our SIM cards are locked with a particular company, emergency roaming is do-able. There are issues have to be resolved before we are able to move to a different service provider for 911 calls. But I believe the federal government can play a meaningful role to make this happen.”

As for the possible cause of the Rogers outage, Wang said the incident shows “some kind of network redundancy, sub-system decoupling, and preparedness for critical situations are really needed.”

It shows all telecom providers “need to be prepared for such kind of situation with growing complexity of ICT infrastructures,” he said. For example, network maintenance updates should be installed progressively over different parts of the network “rather than upgrade the whole network at one time.”

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Paul Barker
Paul Barker
Paul Barker is the founder of PBC Communications, an independent writing firm that specializes in freelance journalism. He has extensive experience as a reporter, feature writer and editor and has been covering technology-related issues for more than 30 years.

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