Rogers blackout prompts calls for changes in consumer behavior, changes in federal policy

Consumers should reevaluate their technology service “bundles” based on cost versus risk in the same way they balance their investment portfolio, according to tech expert Andy Baryer.

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A local tech industry watcher joined consumers and others in calling for federal policy changes after Friday’s Rogers Communications network outage disrupted all aspects of life, but especially access to emergency services, for millions of users.

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“People need to be able to pick up their phone and call 911. Now that we’re moving to a 5G network, there’s an opportunity for the government to really push and say to the networks, ‘we need to cooperate,’ and create a stable and secure option.” said Andy Baryer, technology and digital lifestyle expert at HandyAndyMedia.com.

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The disruption in internet access, cell phone and landline connections meant some callers were unable to reach emergency services via 911 calls, Police Canada said.

Rogers, BCE Inc and Telus Corp control 90 percent of the market share in Canada.

Andy Barryer is a freelance technology journalist, on-air presenter, and content creator from Vancouver, Canada.  Previously, he was a television and radio producer and host of GetConnected Media, Canada's longest-running technology show.
Andy Barryer is a freelance technology journalist, on-air presenter, and content creator from Vancouver, Canada. Previously, he was a television and radio producer and host of GetConnected Media, Canada’s longest-running technology show. Photo by Andy Barry /jpg

They could be forced to meet certain stipulations to qualify for licenses to operate next-generation 5G wireless services, Baryer suggested. Companies could be forced to immediately share access to emergency services when a network is disrupted.

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Instead, they currently view the Rogers outage as an opportunity to gain new customers, Barryer said.

The situation, which began around 7:30 a.m. PDT on Friday and lasted through Saturday, disrupted banking, transportation and government access for about a third of mobile users in Canada who rely on Rogers’ network and affected cashless payment systems and the Air Canada call center. .

“Millions of Canadians were unable to call 911 yesterday. Hospitals could not call staff. There was no way to call families so they could say goodbye to their loved ones at the end of life,” tweeted Amit Arya, CEO of the Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians.

Rogers, who blamed a router malfunction after maintenance, said Saturday that it would credit affected customers and invest more in its network and technology. He did not comment on whether the disruption could affect his chances of gaining antitrust approval for a $20 billion acquisition of Shaw Communications. Canada’s competition office blocked the deal earlier this year, saying it would hamper competition in a country where telecoms rates are among the highest in the world.

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University of Ottawa professor Michael Geist, who focuses on internet law and e-commerce, said the outage “should be a wake-up call for a government that has been asleep in digital politics.”

He wrote on his blog that the blame for the outage may lie with Rogers, but the Canadian government and telecommunications regulator should be held accountable for not responding.

Baryer said consumers should reevaluate their technology service “bundles” based on cost versus risk in the same way they balance their investment portfolio.

“Try to diversify your services so you can stay online or connected. I guess the most important tip would be to keep your Wi-Fi and home internet and cell phone on different plans. Unfortunately, many people are on the same (network). They were the ones who had to go to the cafeteria so they could keep working,” he said.

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Baryer said he uses one of the smaller Internet service providers, Tek-Savvy Solutions, Inc., to “stick to the big three” and avoid using them. These more enterprising players exist to avoid a complete monopoly of the market, but they sell the same infrastructure and services as the big companies.

In addition to carrying some cash, Baryer said consumers should get their habits back up in case networks go down again. For example, she has now placed a safe outside her house with a physical backup key because it has a Smart Lock that relies on Wi-Fi to work.

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With Reuters files

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