Canada endures major internet outage

Canada endures major internet outage

Wireless market leader apologises as millions struggle through a day without communications

People crowd around a Starbucks coffee shop to use its free WiFi, which uses the Bell network, amid a major service outage on the network of market leader Rogers Communications, in Toronto on Friday. (Reuters Photo)
People crowd around a Starbucks coffee shop to use its free WiFi, which uses the Bell network, amid a major service outage on the network of market leader Rogers Communications, in Toronto on Friday. (Reuters Photo)

TORONTO: Canada’s largest wireless provider said on Saturday that it had restored most services after a major outage had cut off banking, transport and government access for millions of people, adding to criticism over its dominance of the telecoms industry.

“As our services come back online and traffic volumes return to normal, some customers may experience a delay in regaining full service,” Rogers Communications said in a statement posted on Twitter.

Every facet of life was disrupted by the outage, with police across the country saying that some people could not reach emergency services via 911 calls. There was also chaos in payment systems, ATMs and phone connections.

People crowded into cafes and public libraries that still had internet access from rival providers and hovered outside hotels to catch a signal. The country’s border services agency said the outage affected its mobile app for incoming travellers.

A quarter of Canada’s internet connections were “knocked out”, for several hours, according to data from NetBlocks, an internet watchdog group.

Rogers is Canada’s top mobile carrier, with more than 11 million wireless subscribers and nearly 3 million internet users — collectively controlling along with Bell Inc and Telus Corp almost 90% of the wireless market in the country of 38 million.

The network collapse started early Friday morning and continued into the afternoon. Rogers has yet to comment on the source of the problem. “We know how much you rely on our networks. Today we have let you down,” the company said on Twitter on Friday. 

Greg Fergus, parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, told the news outlet the government does not believe it was the result of a cyberattack. 

The long disruption is a black eye for Canada’s largest wireless provider, which is trying to persuade regulators to allow it to buy an even larger share of the telecommunications infrastructure in the country.

François-Philippe Champagne, the federal minister of innovation, science and industry, said he spoke to Rogers’ CEO to express the “frustration of millions of Canadians”.

“This unacceptable situation is why quality, diversity and reliability are key to our telecom network,” he said in a statement posted on Twitter.

Rogers is in the process of an acquisition of Shaw Communications in a US$15.4-billion deal that would give it control over wireline and wireless networks that serve millions of customers in western Canada and Ontario, the country's most populous province. The deal still requires the approval of the country’s antitrust body, which opposes it, and the federal government. 

Royal Bank of Canada said the network failure was affecting all financial institutions in Canada. Interac, a payment system used by all the banks, said the problems hit its debit card and funds-transfer services. 

Desjardins Group, which serves 7.5 million people, mostly in Quebec, said electronic funds transfers weren’t available. “Rogers customers who attempt to use our services may encounter certain difficulties. We recommend our members and customers to use our ATMs if they need cash,” spokesman Jean-Benoît Turcotti said. 

In Hamilton, a city west of Toronto, clerks at downtown coffee shops told growing lines of customers that they would be unable to pay with debit cards, the dominant payment form in Canada, because of the outage. Those without cash faced challenges since many nearby bank machines were also down.

Some government offices also lost their connections — including the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the agency that regulates communications services, which said on Twitter that its phone lines weren’t working properly. 

The outage affected the work day of businesses and staff all across Canada. Sameer Uplenchwar, chief financial officer of HeliosX Lithium & Technologies Corp, said he had to cancel plans to attend events at the Calgary Stampede and stay home because he cannot risk being disconnected from work. 

“It’s kind of a blessing in disguise that Western Canada doesn’t have Rogers at home right now,” said Uplenchwar, who uses Telus Corp for his home internet connection. 

Police services in places including Toronto and Waterloo, Ontario, alerted the public that Rogers customers may have difficulty connecting with 911. 

Air Canada said its call centres were hit by the glitch, just as the airline is dealing with a wave of flight delays and cancellations amid a labour crunch in the aviation sector.

The Canada Border Services Agency said arriving travellers would have to use paper forms to provide mandatory travel and public health information, as its mobile app had been affected by the outage.

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