CBC News has learned Canada’s telecommunications regulator has hired a private consulting firm to investigate the massive Rogers outage last summer that left more than 10 million customers without cellphone and internet access.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) confirmed in an email it hired engineering consultant Xona Partners in May to provide a report on the Rogers network and “help inform what further regulatory action is needed.”
Xona is being asked to look into what happened during the outage and whether measures Rogers has since taken can prevent another.
The contract offering asks the investigator to do a “forensic level technical review” of Rogers networks, interview key employees and visit its operation centres in Toronto.
The CRTC won’t say how much it paid Xona, but did indicate the report is expected this fall.
“The CRTC will soon review the findings and release the report to inform Canadians and stakeholders,” a spokesperson wrote in a second statement following nearly a week of requests from CBC News for more details.
Critics say the CRTC should have acted sooner and done its own to probe the Rogers’ outage, which for some lasted for days.
“It’s kind of like sending in investigators after the body is cold,” said John Lawford with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, a consumer rights non-profit group that has been pushing telecommunications companies and the CRTC to be more upfront about outages.
“We can’t see how that engineering firm is doing its work. We also don’t know if the eventual report will be made public, or redacted, or mostly confidential, or partly confidential. And I think the public would like to know just what occurred at Rogers.”
‘Shrouded in secrecy’
The crash, which started on July 8, 2022, shut down critical phone and internet services — from government and business offices to Interac purchasing and, most notably, for emergency services.
In one case, a Hamilton woman suffered a fatal stroke as a family member was unable to call 911.
Days later, the CRTC ordered Rogers to provide details about what happened, including what government services were impacted.
The response Rogers released was heavily redacted because of, the company said, customer confidentiality.
An expert in trade secrets and confidential information says the CRTC’s entire review of the outage has been “shrouded in secrecy.”
Matt Malone, an assistant professor at Thompson Rivers University’s faculty of law, has unsuccessfully tried to get more details through access to information requests about how 911 services were affected during the outage.
Rogers has said it can’t provide that data because it could put the network at risk by bad actors.
“Roger invokes these safety concerns in a very broad manner to prevent disclosure of really basic information like how many 911 calls were disrupted,” Malone said. “That’s information that Canadians would universally want to know.”
“There’s a lot of secrecy on this file, but it’s important to remember that that secrecy is intentional. Secrecy helps both the CRTC and Rogers avoid accountability,” he said.
“At some point the idea is that it fades far enough into the past that Canadians forget about it.”
‘Enhancements and safeguards’
Rogers declined CBC’s request for an interview. In a statement the company said that since last summer, it has completed a full review of its network.
“We… have implemented several enhancements and safeguards. We will continue to work with the CRTC to ensure Canadians have access to reliable telecommunication services and timely information,” wrote Rogers spokesperson Zac Carreiro.
Carreiro pointed to steps Rogers has taken since the outage, like working to separate its wireless and wireline networks and doing extensive reviews of its network architecture and safeguards to provide the “highest level of resiliency.”
Carreiro also pointed to a memorandum of understanding that telecommunications companies signed last September. Under pressure from the federal government, Rogers and other providers have agreed to support one another during future major network outages.
Meanwhile, the CRTC has put in temporary rules that require internet, telephone and cable providers to notify the regulator within two hours of a major outage affecting more than 100,000 customers. In February the CRTC also began consultations on how it should further regulate how telecoms report major service outages. Submissions closed sixth months ago, but on Monday the CRTC reopened submissions to include sign language.