Canada’s major telecommunications companies have signed a formal agreement that could avoid the worst effects of a major outage like the one that hit Rogers’ network in July, the federal government announced Wednesday.

As part of the deal, major carriers have agreed to support and assist competitors during future major network outages so customers can still make calls, access 911 emergency services and conduct business transactions. .

The companies also agreed to provide “clear and timely communications” to customers during outages.

“Telecommunications companies have agreed to our request to take meaningful steps to increase and improve network reliability in our country,” Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said at a news conference in Vancouver.

“Rogers’ July 8 outage was clearly unacceptable and we must continue to do everything possible to ensure that something similar does not happen again in the future.”

You can read the full agreement here.

The Rogers outage, which began early July 8 and – for some customers – lasted for days, left millions without cellphones or internet service. The company later said the failure was caused by an error during an internal system update.

Champagne said he was unhappy with the level of communication offered by Rogers during the outage.

“They should have been more open,” he said.

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Champagne said he was visiting Japan during the outage and contacted Rogers CEO Tony Staffieri to discuss what happened.

“I don’t think it’s the minister trying to reach the CEO of a telecom company in the event of a major outage in the country. I think it should be the other way around,” he said.

Agreement may not restore service for all affected customers

While Champagne touts the deal as a way to keep Canadians and businesses connected to critical networks during outages, an industry expert says that won’t be possible during major outages.

The new agreement provides for “emergency roaming” on a competitor’s network to be made available to customers affected by an outage.

John Lawford, executive director and general counsel of the Public Interest Advocacy Center in Ottawa, said carriers likely won’t have the ability to provide service to everyone without service in the event of an outage like the one Rogers recently experienced.

“It is very unlikely that all customers of an affected provider will be able to find roaming on another operator,” he said. “It won’t be like a backup network in the event of a real outage like in July.”

Rogers Chairman and CEO Tony Staffieri and Ron McKenzie, Chief Information and Technology Officer, appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry and Technology on Monday, 25 July 2022 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Lawford also criticized federal regulators for moving more slowly than their US counterparts. He said that the new Canadian agreement basically replicates a plan announced by the Federal Communication Commission on July 6 — two days before Rogers broke down.

“It’s something that should have been in place a long time ago,” he said. “Our CRTC regulator was sleeping at the switch.”

Champagne described the new binding agreement as simply the “first step” in Ottawa’s plans to improve reliability and accountability in the industry.

The government says it has given the Canadian Telecommunications Security Advisory Committee six months to propose new measures “to ensure robust and reliable telecommunications networks across the country.”

Champagne said Ottawa will move forward with a plan to build a new public safety broadband network that will be used in emergency situations.