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The Canadian Press

Rogers says wireless service fully restored but questions remain after massive outage

A massive wireless outage that left millions of Rogers Communications Inc. customers without service for more than 12 hours on Monday has been resolved, but questions linger over the issue of compensation as well as the company’s planned takeover of Shaw Communications Inc. Chief technology officer Jorge Fernandes said in a statement on Tuesday that the root cause of the outage was a recent software update by Rogers’ network partner Ericsson. While he apologized and acknowledged that the company failed to meet the level of service it strives to provide customers, he stopped short of saying whether Rogers would be offering customers compensation. Telecom experts argued that customers should at a minimum receive a refund for the loss of service. But they also said it’s unlikely Rogers will proactively offer compensation and that calculating the actual value of customers’ potential losses is nearly impossible. “The bottom line is any time you’re getting a service, if you’re not provided that service for a certain number of hours, you should be compensated for the hours that you lost at a bare minimum,” said David Soberman, a marketing professor in the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. But John Lawford, executive director and general counsel of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, said he doesn’t expect Rogers will offer compensation because there are no quality of service requirements on wireless providers in Canada. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission “has never regulated (quality of service) on wireless,” he said in an email. “Without it, there won’t be compensation, ever.” Calculating the actual dollar value of customer losses due to the outage is also nearly impossible, said Will Mitchell, the Anthony S. Fell Chair in New Technologies and Commercialization at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. “We would not be able to figure out how much any individual or any business lost,” he said. The nearly daylong wireless interruption had deep economic implications, with industry watchers saying the issue impacted business sales and services such as food delivery and curbside pickup, as well as the ability for some Rogers customers to book or check in for medical appointments. Many users expressed frustration with the outage that left them without voice calls, texting and data, noting that they rely on the wireless service to work from home under ongoing COVID-19 restrictions. “Everything we do now is connected digitally and many people no longer have a home phone,” Soberman said. “This creates a really big problem, especially during the pandemic when people are doing a lot of things on their phones including making bookings for vaccinations.” The extensive outage could also stoke concerns about telecommunications consolidation and costs in Canada, according to experts. Calgary-based Shaw Communications Inc., owner of Freedom Mobile and Canada’s fourth-largest carrier, agreed to be purchased by Rogers for $26 billion last month pending regulatory approval. MPs grilled executives of Shaw and Rogers during a federal committee hearing into the deal last month. Executives argued that a larger, combined company would lead to an increase in spending on a new generation of networks, but MPs expressed concern that the deal could undo attempts to improve prices and services in Canada’s telecommunications market through greater competition. While increasing consolidation and high wireless costs may be a concern, blocking the Rogers-Shaw deal is not the solution, Mitchell said. “On one hand, the fewer companies we have, the more people any one outage will affect,” he said. “On the other hand, the more companies we have, the smaller on average any one of them is going to be and the less money and technical resources they will have to invest in state-of-the-art technology.” In other words, if Canada had more telecom firms, the ability for each company to invest in sophisticated technology would be lower, Mitchell said. Still, the CRTC could require large telecommunications companies to build in redundancies, such as robust backup systems or agreements with competitors to offer wireless service in the case of an outage, he said. “I would demand that redundancy because it’s just way too important,” Mitchell added. Rogers, one of Canada’s big three wireless carriers along with Bell and Telus, owns a national wireless network that does business under the Rogers, Fido and Chatr brands. This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 20, 2021. Companies in this story: (TSX:RCI.B) Brett Bundale, The Canadian Press

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