Rogers CEO defends outage response to MPs at committee hearing

telecom

Rogers Communications Inc. CEO Tony Staffieri faced questions from MPs about whether a lack of competition in the telecom sector might have contributed to the massive Rogers outage earlier this month, which came as the company awaits government approvals for its purchase of Shaw Communications Inc.

Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith asked Staffieri whether the concentration of customers in one single company is a challenge to network resiliency during a House of Commons Industry committee meeting on Monday.

"We work every day in a very competitive environment and we work hard to bring the best value in money for customers," said Staffieri.

"You're saying that with straight face?" responded Erskine-Smith.

In his opening remarks, Staffieri said the outage reflects a failure on the part of Rogers.

"On that day, we failed to deliver on our promise to be Canada's most reliable network," he said.

The CEO further outlined some of the technical causes of the outage and what the company is doing to prevent additional outages, including a plan to separate the wireless and internet networks.

MPs also directed questions to Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne on government action in response to the outage.

New Democrat MP Brian Masse pressed Champagne about passing legislation to make the internet a public utility, saying that COVID-19 had proved the internet to be an essential service.

Without more government power to regulate the internet, Masse told the House of Commons industry committee hearing, "we have to rely on any minister being buddy-buddy with a bunch of CEOs."

Champagne defended his meeting with the telecom CEOs and while he did not say whether he would support legislation to make the internet a public utility, he said he was open to working across party lines and taking in the recommendations of the committee.

Masse also asked Staffieri if he would support a bill of rights for consumers, but the Rogers executive deflected.

"We are very much focused on what we need to do to ensure the resiliency and redundancy of our networks," Staffieri said.

Champagne said on the day of the outage he reached out to Staffieri to inquire about the situation but the conversation was not between a CEO and a cabinet minister, rather Champagne was speaking on behalf of Canadians.

CRTC officials appeared as well, facing questions about their role in regulating the telecom industry.

Rogers submitted a letter to the CRTC on Friday, explaining how the outage happened and the degree to which their network was incapacitated.

CRTC head Ian Scott said the commission is in the process of reviewing the submission and determining next steps.

"Rogers said they will do better. The CRTC will make sure they do," Scott said.

Scott said it's still to be determined whether penalties will be imposed, but cautioned that as per current legislation, penalties are meant to encourage compliance rather than be punitive.

Conservative MP Tracy Gray questioned the CRTC officials on their preparation for an outage's affect on 911 calls, given the Rogers outage limited Canadians' ability to access emergency services.

"It's very difficult to prepare for something that's truly unprecedented," Scott said.

"What this outage taught us is we need more measures."

The July 8 outage crippled the Rogers network and affected millions of customers across Canada, including people trying to contact emergency services.

Never miss a story. Get OBJ's daily update in your inbox every Monday to Friday. Click here to subscribe.