Rogers Communications Inc. RCI-A-T faces the threat of legal fights over its recent outage as customers and small-business clients call for the company to increase the amount of compensation it is offering.
The telecommunications giant’s second outage in a little over a year threw the lives of individuals and businesses into disarray for two days. Some remote workers couldn’t use the internet for their jobs and lost wages, 911 services went down in some areas, and stores lost sales because they could not process debit payments.
Rogers has offered to make it up to customers with a small credit on their next bill. The company initially said the credit would be worth two days of service, and then increased the offer to five days late Tuesday.
But the increase is unlikely to satisfy demands for more compensation. One proposed class-action lawsuit is seeking authorization in Quebec, and more legal challenges could follow.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, a national advocacy group, wants Rogers to give its small-business customers a free month of service to compensate for the losses.
“Many of those sales will never come back, and this is poorly timed, especially after two years of pandemic restrictions with more than half of small businesses that have not returned to a normal level of revenue,” said Jasmin Guénette, CFIB’s vice-president of national affairs.
A proposed class-action lawsuit, filed by LPC Avocat Inc. in Quebec on Monday, is seeking $400 for all consumers who had a contract with Rogers, Fido Mobile or Chatr Mobile and did not receive services during the outage. The lawsuit also identifies a potential sub-class made up of anyone “who could not operate with their own device or make transactions” owing to the outage, including non-Rogers customers, although the latter group would be limited to Quebec. The action has yet to be authorized by a judge.
Arnaud Verdier, the Rogers customer named as the applicant in the lawsuit, believes the credit offered by the carrier is “wholly inadequate,” according to the file. Mr. Verdier was also “misled” by Rogers’s marketing, which calls the company Canada’s most reliable network, the application alleges.
The legal file submitted by LPC Avocat includes screenshots of what the document says are communications from Rogers urging employees to temporarily remove advertising that refers to “Canada’s most reliable 5G network” from stores, with the company saying it was also trying to eliminate similar signs online.
Rogers spokesperson Chloé Luciani-Girouard declined to comment on allegations in the lawsuit.
She also said the company has to earn back customers’ trust.
“We will continue to work around the clock to restore Canadians’ confidence in us,” she said in a statement.
Ms. Luciani did not say how much it would cost Rogers to give a five-day credit to all customers. On Monday, Scotiabank analyst Maher Yaghi pegged the cost of a two-day credit at more than $65-million.
Legal experts said they expect more lawsuits to come.
Jasminka Kalajdzic, a law professor who leads the class-action clinic at the University of Windsor, said more class-action lawsuits are likely, possibly on behalf of businesses as well.
Prof. Kalajdzic said a class-action may be a straightforward way to pursue compensation beyond anything Rogers may offer.
“While there may be some variations in the customer contracts across the country, a failure to provide the service paid for will ground a legal claim for all,” she said via e-mail.
Omar Ha-Redeye, a lawyer at Toronto-based Fleet Street Law, said Rogers could also face actions in small-claims court.
This avenue could make sense for those who have suffered damages that go well beyond the compensation that could be obtained through a class-action suit, he said. For instance, some individuals may have experienced financial losses of thousands or tens of thousands of dollars.
He said those contemplating this option may wish to get a lawyer, although legal representation is not necessary in small-claims court.
He also warned that legal actions can take years to resolve.
That’s why some consumer advocates say Canadians shouldn’t have to rely on lawsuits to obtain adequate remedies.
“Not everybody has access to lawyers or resources that would provide them the knowledge to pursue compensation like this,” said Yuka Sai, a staff lawyer at the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, an Ottawa-based consumer advocacy group.
The organization submitted a letter to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission on July 8 urging the federal regulator to establish industry-wide standards for refund requirements for telecommunications service providers, among other things.
Customers “are looking for a quick, clear solution,” Ms. Sai said. “Not everyone is willing to wait until after a class-action lawsuit is resolved to get their fair compensation.”
Rogers is also warning customers on its website to watch out for scams related to the compensation. Police services and the federal government’s Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre say they have received complaints that fraudsters pretending to be Rogers are texting mobile numbers to urge them to click on a link to get their refund. Rogers said all credits will be applied automatically, without the need for any action on the part of customers.
People who subscribe to other internet providers that use the Rogers network also experienced outages on Friday, but it is not yet clear whether they will be eligible for compensation.
Mike Stanford, vice-president of marketing for Teksavvy Solutions Inc., a large independent telecom provider based in Ontario, said his organization was still assessing the situation.
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