Rogers’ outage compensation does little to solve the larger problem

There are big problems in Canadian digital infrastructure that the telecom giants are failing to address

On July 8, millions of Canadians lost cell phone service due to a Rogers system upgrade error. (Flickr/Open Grid Scheduler)

On July 8, millions of Canadians lost cell phone service due to a Rogers system upgrade error. (Flickr/Open Grid Scheduler)

For one day, millions of Canadians experienced an Internet-free lifestyle, which has not been seen since at least the 1990s. Unfortunately, this was not part of a mass therapeutic exercise, rather it came about due to a dire flaw in Canada’s telecommunication infrastructure.

What should have been a routine network upgrade by Rogers Communications on July 8, turned into a 19 hours long, nation-wide outage that saw mobile calls to emergency services fail to go through, businesses unable to process debit or credit card purchases, hospitals rescheduling or transferring appointments, and The Weeknd’s tour-opening concert at –- aptly enough — Rogers Centre was cancelled since tickets could not be processed. 

As recompense for this catastrophe, Rogers offered customers five days worth of service credit, which is up from the previously promised two days worth. 

Is shaving some money off the next set of phone, TV, and Wi-Fi bills an equivalent exchange for an incident that unveiled a deep-seated flaw in the telecom market? 

No, of course not. 

The alarming lack of diversity in the national telecom industry is to blame for what happened. It’s an industry hampered by an oligopoly that charges millions of people the highest mobile rates in the world, actively undermines efforts to reduce their hold on telecom services, and is only enabled by regulators and politicians who continuously promise change yet never deliver. 

Allowing these corporations — Rogers, Bell, and Telus — to reign over cable, mobile, and Internet services with only each other as the competition works to ensure the billions-dollar industry enriches their executives and shareholders at the expense of the general public. However, this is another angle to the issue aside from corporate profiteering. The outage shows how necessary, and how fragile, our digital infrastructure is.

From the conception of the Internet to today, society has digitized and computerized to a degree once thought to only be possible in the science fiction genre. People carry handheld computers everywhere, information is available on a whim, and everyday tasks can be done from a keyboard or touchscreen.

The systems that run our world are often programmed with the virtual equivalent of rubber bands and scotch tape. It is why cybersecurity is its own sector after all. Making the vulnerability of networks an even greater concern is when they are vital and in the care of the unaccountable, like Rogers. 

A network maintenance error brought a massive chunk of the telecommunications industry to its knees for a day and there are people who are rightfully demanding answers. Whether or not these inquiries by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) or Parliamentary committees will lead to meaningful results is up in the air with precedent largely leaning towards preservation of the status quo and minimal change

Where does that leave us as consumers? Relegated to the mercy of the industry’s Big Three? It does not have to be this way, nor should it. Canadians deserve a diverse selection of phone, television, and Internet providers and the ability to mix-and-match services over getting tied down by bundle packages from one company. 

If this were the norm, then we wouldn’t have seen so many people, businesses, and essential services go down as hard and as fast as they did. Digital infrastructure, now more than ever, and even more-so going forward, needs to be treated like the public utility that it is as opposed to the saleable commodity the Big Three see it as.