Rogers redacts network outage details in new CRTC response

Rogers blamed the July 8 outage on a coding error introduced during an upgrade to its core infrastructure and was criticized for being slow to communicate with customers in the first hours of the outage.Cole Burston/The Canadian Press

Rogers Communications Inc. RCI-BT provided more information to regulators about its network outage, but asked that most of its explanations not be made public.

The company’s letter, dated Aug. 22, responds to a second set of questions from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) regarding the July 8 outage and was posted Wednesday on the regulator’s website. The disruption left millions of Rogers customers across the country without wireless, internet and home phone service.

The Toronto-based telecommunications company blamed the outage on a coding error introduced during an upgrade to its core infrastructure and was criticized for being slow to communicate with customers in the first hours of the outage.

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Although Rogers provided many details to the CRTC in its filing, it redacted much of the information. In its letter to the CRTC, the company said “any potential public interest in disclosing the information contained in these responses is far outweighed by the specific direct harm that would be caused to Rogers and its customers.”

Contacted on Wednesday, Rogers declined to comment further on specific questions about the redacted sections.

Geoff White, executive director and Competitive Network Operators of Canada, the national advocacy group for independent internet service providers, said the CRTC should use its powers to compel Rogers to release some of the missing information.

“Entire pages are redacted, totally frustrating this vital process of understanding what went wrong and why,” Mr White said.

Mr. White’s group is among several who have repeatedly challenged Rogers for “over-drafting” his responses to CRTC questions. The Public Interest Advocacy Center, a consumer advocacy firm, said it was continuing to ask the CRTC to open a public inquiry into the outage.

There is precedent for fuller disclosure: Earlier this month, Rogers released an edited version of its responses to the CRTC’s first set of questions, releasing several parts that had already been redacted.

Rogers did not respond to questions from the CRTC about its total costs of the outage or provide the cost and schedule of planned upgrades to its system. When asked to quantify the economic effect of the outage, along with an explanation of the calculation, in the letter, Rogers said it “simply does not have the economic data needed to properly model the impact. of the breakdown”.

Although Rogers responded to questions about the cost and timing of the planned separation of its wireline and wireless services, most of that information was redacted. Separating the services would prevent both from failing at the same time in future outages. The letter notes that ultimately there will be no “sharing of fate” – when the systems are linked – once the separation is complete.

However, the company said it now expects the “separation plan” to cost $261 million, slightly more than the $250 million previously estimated by Chief Executive Tony Staffieri at the Standing Committee of industry and technology in July.

Rogers Communications Inc. and Shaw Communications Inc. have finalized an agreement to sell Freedom Mobile Inc. to Videotron, a unit of Quebecor Inc., in a move the companies hope to gain regulatory approval for the takeover from Shaw by Rogers.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Responses related to the cost and timing of the $10 billion investment Rogers plans to use to grow and strengthen its network are also redacted. The company previously said investments in artificial intelligence will roll out over the next three years.

The spending has also raised questions among analysts, who note significant costs for Rogers in addition to the $150 million credits it said it would pay customers.

According to Edward Jones analyst David Heger, if the “cost of separation” estimate of $261 million remains accurate, “it wouldn’t be devastating to the company’s free cash flow,” especially if Rogers is completing its $26 billion takeover of Shaw Communications Inc. SJR-BT But a lot more could start to put pressure on the company’s bottom line.

Heger also raised questions about the $10 billion investment and how much can be covered in Rogers’ annual capital budget.

Four days after the outage, the CRTC’s executive director of telecommunications, Fiona Gilfillan, said in a letter to Rogers that the telecommunications company should release as much public record information as possible, given the overwhelming public interest in the breakdown. In an email Wednesday, CRTC spokeswoman Patricia Valladao said the commission would make decisions on any additional disclosures after reviewing all the information it has.

In response to questions from the CRTC about failed emergency calls on the day of the outage, Rogers said the total number of 911 calls made to its network on July 8 was 60% of its daily average. Although the company provided a total number of 911 calls made that day, that information has been redacted.

During the outage, Rogers was unable to route most 911 calls through competing carriers, despite offers of assistance, or provide offline emergency alerts. The company has since said it will work with competitors to develop a security system to automatically transfer calls to other networks during another outage.

In the letter, Rogers said 911 callers could have expected to wait up to a minute for an emergency call to go through, although during that time many callers may have disconnected.

Ben Klass, senior research associate at the Canadian Media Concentration Research Project and telecommunications consultant, agreed that the CRTC should intervene.

“It’s just another reminder that Rogers’ overriding concern is their own bottom line, so it’s no surprise that they seek to mask their own failures,” Klass said. “We all rely on the services of giant companies like Rogers and deserve an explanation when something goes so wrong.”

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