By Divya Rajagopal and Ismail Shakil
TORONTO/OTTAWA (Reuters) -Rogers Telecommunications said its network was beginning to recover late on Friday after a 19-hour service outage at one of Canada’s biggest telecom operators shut banking, transport and government access for millions, drawing outrage from customers and adding to criticism over its industry dominance.
Nearly every facet of life has been disrupted, with the outage affecting internet access, cell phone and landline phone connections. Some callers could not reach emergency services via 911 calls, police across Canada said.
Canadians crowded into cafes and public libraries that still had internet access and hovered outside hotels to catch a signal. Canada’s border services agency said the outage affected its mobile app for incoming travelers. Retailers’ cashless pay systems went down; banks reported issues with ATM services.
Rogers said in a statement https://twitter.com/RogersHelps/status/1545586755189067777/photo/1 on Twitter that “our wireless services are starting to recover” and workers are trying to get people back online as quickly as possible.
In a separate statement https://about.rogers.com/news-ideas/a-message-from-tony-staffieri-president-and-ceo-at-rogers on its website, Rogers President and Chief Executive Officer Tony Staffieri apologized for the outage, saying: “Today we let you down. We can and will do better.”
He added that the company doesn’t have a timeline on when the networks will be fully restored, “but we will continue to share information with our customers as we restore full services.”
He said a credit would be applied to affected customers.
A spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said Friday evening that the outage was not the result of a cyber attack.
Rogers’ shares closed down 73 cents at C$61.54 ($47.53) on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
The disruption also made transport and flight bookings more difficult at the height of the summer travel season.
So far, Transport Canada has not received reports of direct safety or security impacts to any flights, marine or rail services as part of this outage, according to spokesperson Sau Liu.
The interruption was Rogers’ second in 15 months. It began around 4:30 a.m. ET (0830 GMT) and knocked out a quarter of Canada’s observable internet connectivity, said the NetBlocks monitoring group.
With about 10 million wireless subscribers and 2.25 million retail internet subscribers, Rogers is the top provider in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province and home to its biggest city, Toronto. Rogers, BCE Inc and Telus Corp control 90% of the market share in Canada.
Canadian Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne in a tweet called the situation “unacceptable” and said he was in communication with telecom CEOs, including those from Rogers, Bell and Telus, to find a solution.
Canadian financial institutions and banks, including Toronto-Dominion Bank and Bank Of Montreal, said the outage disrupted services. Royal Bank of Canada said its ATMs and online banking services were affected.
A spokesperson for Vancouver International airport, among Canada’s busiest, said travelers could not pay for parking, use terminal ATMs or purchase items at airport retailers.
Air Canada, the country’s largest airline, said its call center had been affected. Airlines in Canada, like those in Europe and the United States, have been experiencing high call volume amid flight cancellations and delays due to pandemic staffing shortages.
Pop star the Weeknd on Friday evening announced that his tour stop at the Rogers Centre stadium had been postponed due to service outages affecting venue operations.
“I’m crushed & heartbroken. Been at the venue all day but it’s out of our hands because of the Rogers outage,” the singer wrote in a tweet.
Critics said the outage demonstrated a need for more competition in telecom.
Earlier this year, Canada’s competition bureau blocked Rogers’ attempt to take over rival Shaw Communications in a C$20 billion deal, saying it would hamper competition in a country where telecom rates are some of the world’s highest. The merger still awaits a final verdict.
“Today’s outage illustrates the need for more independent competition that will drive more network investment so outages are far less likely,” said Anthony Lacavera, managing director of Globealive, an investment firm that had bid for a wireless provider involved in the Rogers/Shaw deal.
On Friday, some government agencies canceled services after losing internet access, including Canada’s passport offices and the telecoms regulator. The Canada Revenue Agency, the country’s tax collection body, lost telephone service.
‘CASH WILL BE KING’
Shops and restaurants in Toronto put “Cash Only” signs on their doors. Residents crowded into and around a nearby Starbucks coffee shop offering free Wi-Fi on an unaffected network.
“There’s tons of people here with their laptops just working away ferociously, the same as they would at home, because they’ve got no service at home,” said Starbucks customer Ken Rosenstein.
In downtown Ottawa, Canada’s capital, cafes including Tim Hortons were not accepting debit and credit cards and were turning away customers who did not have cash.
Michelle Wasylyshen, spokeswoman for the Retail Council of Canada, said outages would vary from one retailer to the next: “Cash will most certainly be king at many stores today.”
While the disruptions were widespread, several companies and transport points said their services were unaffected. The Port of Montreal reported no disruptions. The Calgary Airport Authority said it had “no major operational impacts.”
($1 = 1.2948 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Yuvraj Malik, Eva Matthews, Shubham Kalia and Maria Ponnezhath in Bengaluru; Katharine Jackson in Washington; Divya Rajagopal and Chris Helgren in Toronto; Ismail Shakil in Ottawa; Writing by Rami Ayyub, Aurora Ellis and Christian Schmollinger; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli, Jonathan Oatis, David Gregorio and Leslie Adler & Shri Navaratnam)