Rogers Communications Inc. RCI-B-T has provided more information to regulators about its network outage, but has asked that most of its explanation be withheld from the public.
The company’s letter, dated Aug. 22, responds to a second set of questions from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in relation to the July 8 outage and was posted to the regulator’s website Wednesday. The disruption left millions of Rogers customers across the country without wireless, internet and home-phone service.
The Toronto-based telecom has blamed the outage on a coding error introduced during an upgrade to its core infrastructure, and has faced criticism for being slow to communicate with its customers in the early hours of the interruption.
While Rogers provided extensive details to the CRTC in its filing, it redacted much of the information. In its letter to CRTC, the company said, “any possible public interest in disclosure of the information in these Responses is greatly outweighed by the specific direct harm that would flow to Rogers and to its customers.”
Contacted Wednesday, Rogers declined to comment further on specific questions about the redacted sections.
Geoff White, executive director and of the Competitive Network Operators of Canada, the national advocacy group for independent internet service providers, said the CRTC should use its powers to require Rogers to make some of the missing information public.
“Entire pages are redacted, which totally frustrates this vital process of understanding what went wrong and why,” Mr. White said.
Mr. White’s group is among several that have challenged Rogers on numerous occasions for “over-redacting” its responses to CRTC questions. The Public Interest Advocacy Centre, a consumer-advocacy corporation, has said it continues to ask the CRTC to open a public inquiry into the outage.
There is some precedent for fuller disclosure: Earlier this month, Rogers released an amended version of its responses to the CRTC’s first set of questions, making public several portions that had previously been redacted.
Rogers did not answer the CRTC’s questions about its total costs from the outage or provide the cost and timing of planned upgrades to its system. When asked to quantify the economic effect of the outage, as well as an explanation for the calculation, in the letter Rogers said it “simply does not possess the economic data necessary to properly model the impact of the outage.”
While Rogers did respond to questions about the costing and timeline of the planned separation of its wired and wireless services, most of this information was redacted. Separating the services would prevent both from going down at once in future outages. The letter notes that, ultimately, there will be no “fate-sharing” – when 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 on industry and technology in July.
Also redacted are responses related to the cost and timeline of the $10-billion investment Rogers plans to use to grow and strengthen its network. The company has previously said investment in artificial intelligence will roll out over the next three years.
The spending has also raised questions among analysts, who note the significant costs to Rogers in addition to the $150-million in credits it said it would pay to customers.
According to Edward Jones analyst David Heger, if the $261-million “separation cost” estimate remains accurate, “it would not be devastating to the company’s free cash flow,” especially if Rogers completes its proposed $26-billion takeover of Shaw Communications Inc. SJR-B-T But much more might start to put pressure on the company’s financial results.
Mr. Heger also raised questions about the $10-billion investment, and how much of that can be covered within Rogers’s annual capital budget.
Four days after the outage, the CRTC’s executive director of telecommunications, Fiona Gilfillan, said in a letter to Rogers the telecom would be expected to disclose information on the public record to the maximum extent possible, given the immense public interest in the outage. In an e-mail Wednesday, CRTC spokesperson Patricia Valladao said that the commission would make determinations on any additional disclosure after it reviews all the information before it.
In response to the CRTC’s questions about failures of emergency calls on the day of the outage, Rogers said the total number of 911 calls made through its network on July 8 represented 60 per cent of its daily average. While 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 rival carriers, despite offers of assistance, or deliver emergency alerts offline. The company has since said it will work with competitors to develop a fail-safe system to transfer calls to other networks automatically in 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, though during this time many callers might have disconnected.
Ben Klass, a senior research associate at the Canadian Media Concentration Research Project and telecommunications consultant, agreed the CRTC should step in.
“It’s just another reminder that Rogers’s overriding concern is its own bottom line, so it’s no big surprise that they’d seek to obfuscate their own failings,” Mr. Klass said. “We are all relying on the services of giant firms like Rogers and we deserve an explanation when something goes so wrong.”
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