The Rogers logo is photographed in Toronto on Monday, September 30, 2019.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tijana Martin

Experts warn of economic implications from Rogers wireless outage

A massive wireless outage that has left customers of Rogers Communications Inc. without phone or texting services since early Monday has broad economic ramifications across Canada, experts said.

“It’s a very big deal,” said Tyler Chamberlin, assistant professor at the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa. “It can have very big consequences on our economy.”

In addition to personal communications, experts said the outage is impacting business sales and services such as food delivery and curbside pickup, payments that require a wireless connection and the ability for people to work remotely.

The service interruption could also have health implications, with some Rogers customers saying they’ve been unable to book or check-in for medical appointments.

Rogers spokesman Andrew Garas said the national wireless carrier is working to fix the issue.

“We know how important it is to stay connected and are working hard to restore services for customers who are experiencing interruptions with wireless voice and data,” he said in an email. “We sincerely apologize and thank our customers for their patience.”

Residential and business wireline internet services — also referred to as wired or broadband internet — are not impacted, Garas said.

According to Downdetector, a website that tracks outages, problems are being reported in most major Canadian cities.

Although the ongoing service disruption appears concentrated in southern Ontario, an outage map suggests the service problems span the country from British Columbia to Nova Scotia.

Users have said they have been unable to place or receive cellphone calls or text messages since early Monday morning.

Rogers owns a national wireless network that does business under the Rogers, Fido and Chatr brands.

It’s one of Canada’s big three wireless carriers along with Bell and Telus.

The massive outage could flame concerns about telecommunications consolidation and costs in Canada, Chamberlinsaid.

“It’s infrastructure, it’s equipment and it’s going to fail here and there,” he said. “But the fact that we’re paying more than most of the consumers around the world would suggest that our tolerance for outages like this is probably quite limited.”

According to an investor page on the Rogers website, the telecommunications company provides both postpaid and prepaid wireless services to about 10.9 million consumer and business subscribers in the Canadian wireless market.

Some of those users expressed frustration on social media, noting that they rely on the wireless service as they work from home under ongoing COVID-19 restrictions.

“We’re in another major lockdown here in Ontario and economically that’s far less disruptive … than stopping people from being digitally connected,” Chamberlinsaid.

Toronto resident and communications specialist Rachael Collier, a Fido customer, said she first noticed her phone wasn’t working Monday morning when she tried to make a doctor’s appointment.

“I thought my call wasn’t going through because so many people are trying to get vaccines today,” she said during a Google Meet interview.

“Then I realized I couldn’t make any calls,” Collier said. “They’re saying it’s intermittent but my phone hasn’t worked all day. It’s clearly an absolutely massive outage.”

With her home internet still working, Collier said she’s been able to work as usual. But she’s worried about how the wireless outage is impacting people trying to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

“I’m concerned that on the first day of vaccination appointments basically opening, people who are relying on their phones to make an appointment have been cut off,” she said.

Milton resident Deep Mehta said he hasn’t had service for more than 12 hours.

“It’s frustrating because I’m trying to operate a business from home and that’s the number that everyone has,” he said. “I just had to take my son to the orthodontist and I couldn’t check in on my phone.”

Several emergency services organizations explained that while wireless customers can still place 911 calls during a service interruption, they are unable to receive a call back.

“People should still continue calling 911 for emergencies and remain on the line until an operator speaks to them,” Cpl. Caroline Duval, an RCMP spokeswoman, said in an email.

“They should also watch for updates/direction from their local police (including local RCMP where we are the police of jurisdiction) as well as Rogers for updates regarding affected areas.”

Winnipeg Police said on Twitter that Rogers and Fido customers will still be able to call 911 but must remain on the line to speak with an operator.

Peel Regional Police said on Twitter that if Rogers customers call 911 they should remain on the line as operators are unable to call back.

“We are experiencing several 911 drop calls that require followup,” Waterloo Regional Police also said on Twitter. “Please do not hang up if you call 911. Stay on the line so we can make sure you’re okay.”

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