CRTC to require notification from telecoms within two hours of outage

By Sammy Hudes, The Canadian Press

Canada’s national telecommunications regulator is directing all service providers to notify it within two hours when they experience a network outage, something it notes is increasing in frequency.

The interim requirement is the first step of a consultation announced Wednesday by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission aimed at “enhancing the resilience and reliability” of telecommunications networks.

Providers must also file a report with the CRTC within 14 days following an outage.

The move comes after a mandate handed down by Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne went into effect last week, requiring the agency to implement new rules to bolster consumer rights, affordability, competition and universal access.

The directive rescinds a 2006 policy direction for the agency to rely on market forces in making decisions. It calls on the CRTC to improve consumer protection during service outages.

“Canadians need reliable, high-quality telecommunications services,” CRTC chairwoman Vicky Eatrides said in a statement.

“We are taking action to lessen the disruptive impact of service outages on Canadians, reduce their occurrence and length, and ensure that essential services such as 911 and emergency alerts are always available.”

The CRTC said in its press release that telephone and internet services go down more often due to factors such as extreme weather events, cyberattacks and accidents.

Last July, a major Rogers Communications Inc. network outage left more than 12 million mobile and internet customers without service for upwards of 15 hours.

Champagne later gave Rogers and other major telecommunications companies 60 days to come up with a joint crisis plan in case of future outages. The companies signed onto a formal agreement that ensures emergency roaming, mutual assistance, and a communications protocol for advising the public and government during such outages.

Under that pact, companies have been required since September to provide support to one another when experiencing outages so that Canadians can still place calls, access 911 and conduct business transactions.

The CRTC is hiring an independent firm to review Rogers’ mitigation plan to prevent serious outages. Along with Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, it plans to commission a report on reliability and resiliency measures employed by telecommunications regulators internationally to prevent service outages.

In a statement, Rogers spokesperson Cam Gordon said the company is investing $20 billion in network reliability over the next five years.

“We share the CRTC’s commitment to making sure Canadians always have access to timely and transparent information,” Gordon said in an email.

“Through this investment, we have increased oversight and testing capabilities, and will further strengthen our network resiliency by physically separating our wireless and internet networks.”

BCE Inc. and Telus Corp., Canada’s other major telecom providers, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The agency said it expects to launch further consultations on potential measures to enhance network resiliency, access to emergency services, consumer communication and compensation. Such measures could also address the impact of outages on accessibility services and impose penalties on service providers.

The Competitive Network Operators of Canada, which represents independent internet providers such as Distributel and VMedia, said in a statement that it appreciates the regulator wanting more transparency and accountability.

“We will want to make sure that smaller competitors who purchase wholesale network access are also appropriately notified, and compensated, for outages,” the group’s executive director, Geoff White, said in an emailed statement.

Canadians can submit feedback through the CRTC’s website until March 24, or by writing to the agency’s secretary-general, as well as through fax.

Rogers Communications is the parent company of this website.

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