Rogers blackout creates ‘nightmare’ for businesses and customers on first day of Stampede

The outage created havoc for many providers and customers in Stampede.

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A nationwide network outage by Rogers Communications Inc. couldn’t have come at a worse time for Calgary businesses.

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Friday is the official first day of the Calgary Stampede, a time when local restaurants and businesses should soak up some much-needed injection and traffic, without being thwarted by a telecommunications outage.

“This is a nightmare,” said Deb Yedlin, president and CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce. “There is a lot of uncertainty in terms of what and how you can pay for the things you need to consume. And from the perspective of Stampede, this is the worst moment you can imagine.”

She was aware of the outage before heading to the Stampede today and stopped at an ATM for the first time in six months.

She said many others weren’t so lucky and were left without the ability to park or even pay for tickets with the reliance on tapping credit and debit cards that has been emphasized during the pandemic.

A notice on the Toronto-based telecommunications company’s website said the outage was affecting both its wireless and home customers and was also affecting phone and chat support.

The company said Friday afternoon that it was “making progress” in restoring service, but offered no explanation for the outage, its expected duration and how many customers were affected.

“We know how much you trust our networks. Today we have disappointed you. We are working to correct this as quickly as possible,” Rogers posted around 2 p.m.

Many providers in Stampede rely on being able to wirelessly connect to the Rogers network to process payments and it took a while to figure out what was going on.

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Rachelle Austin, who co-owns Barbecue Steak on a Bun with her husband, said everything was wrong when they arrived in the morning. At one point they switched to cash only, but then found out that their debit service wasn’t working. Customers, however, took it in stride.

“If you haven’t heard it from us, chances are you’ve heard it from other vendors or from the news. So they’ve been pretty good,” he said.

Challenges spilled out of the Stampede grounds.

Ernie Tsu, president of the Alberta Hospitality Association and co-owner of downtown restaurant Trolley 5, said they are swamped with customers and struggle to get people through the checkout process, and have cut it down for about 25 years. .

“We are taking manual credit card backups,” he said. “We have an emergency kit, I’m not sure if other restaurants have it.”

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Patty Nowlin, co-owner of Sunnyside Market in Kensington, said they had been managing the chaos all day.

While they were able to process credit card charges, many of their customers are debit only. The problem was compounded when some of the local ATMs were out of service because they couldn’t connect to the network. They finally found one nearby that worked, but still created problems when customers filled their cold storage while running to the machine.

She said it also provided moments of encouragement, as some customers who had paid cash for those who were surprised by the problem at the checkout.

“People really panicked, because now not many people carry cash,” he said.

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This further affected Sunnyside Market as they had to go to the bank to top up their float in order to make change due to a shortage of cash.

Nowlin said many clients commented that this should give regulators pause on the Rogers-Shaw merger, highlighting the importance of competition in the marketplace.

Yedlin wouldn’t go that far, but said it underscores the need to “have reliability in our networks.”

Calgary Police Service, Alberta RCMP and Alberta Health Services said Rogers customers were able to access 911 for emergency services even though the network was down. In a statement, AHS said they have instructed staff to use alternate methods to communicate with staff and physicians if affected by the outage, including: landlines, emails, alternate phone numbers and pagers.

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Federal Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said in a statement that the government is closely monitoring the situation and has been in contact with Rogers.

“We expressed how important it is that this matter be resolved as soon as possible and that the company provide prompt and clear communication directly to those affected.”

He said the government will use any tools at its disposal to ensure Canadians stay connected and that the company meets the high standards Canadians deserve, but did not specify what those tools might be.

Calgary MP Michelle Remple Garner called on the federal government for a stronger response, as telecommunications is highly regulated by the federal government through the CRTC.

“Today’s outage underscores the potential additional risks of Canada’s current approach to regulations,” it said in an emailed statement.

— Archived by Brodie Thomas of Postmedia and The Canadian Press.

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