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The Law Bytes Podcast, Episode 138: John Lawford on the Legal, Regulatory and Policy Responses to the Rogers Outage
Rogers has provided some answers to the many questions about its massive outage last month that affected millions of Canadians. Yet there is still considerable uncertainty about what the government and CRTC are prepared to do to address ongoing concerns in the telecom sector. John Lawford is the Executive Director and General Counsel of PIAC, the Public Industry Advocacy Centre, which has been a leading consumer voice for decades in Canada. PIAC was the first to file a request with the CRTC seeking an inquiry into the outage. John and I were both participants at the Industry committee hearing into the outage and he joins the Law Bytes podcast to discuss what we learned and what more can be done from a regulatory, legal, and policy perspective.
The Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology hearing into the Rogers outage was notable for how similar Tony Staffieri, the Rogers CEO, and Ian Scott, the Chair of the CRTC, sounded on key issues related to the outage and the state of Canadian telecom regulation. In fact, Conservative MP Tracy Gray noted during the hearing that “listening to the answers from the executives at the CRTC, I felt like I was actually questioning senior telecom executives not the regulator.” Ms. Gray wasn’t wrong. While it is obviously the role of the CRTC to regulate the industry, the two were often indistinguishable, leading me to create this quiz with actual quotes from the hearing from Staffieri and Scott. Can you tell the difference?
The CRTC Shrugged: A Special Law Bytes Podcast on the Industry Committee Hearing Into the Rogers Outage
The Rogers outage came to Parliament Hill yesterday as the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology conducted four hours of hearings into the issue. The day started with Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, followed by Rogers CEO Tony Staffieri, CRTC Chair Ian Scott, and a panel of consumer and public interest voices. I was pleased to be part of the final panel and I’ve posted my opening remarks below and created a special Law Bytes podcast featuring my opening remarks and the question and answer session with MPs.
The Rogers Outage Aftermath: What Else Should Be On Minister François-Philippe Champagne’s Telecom To-Do List?
The massive Rogers outage took centre stage yesterday as CEOs of the leading telecom companies met with Innovation, Science and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne to discuss next steps to reduce the likelihood of a similar event in the future. My initial post on the outage focused on three main issues: conducting hearings into the issue by both the CRTC and a House of Commons committee, competition policy, and consumer compensation. None of these issue were top of mind for the companies or Minister, who instead emphasized the need for agreements among the companies within 60 days on emergency roaming, mutual assistance during outages, and a communications protocol to better inform the public and authorities during telecommunications emergencies. The Minister also noted that there will also be a CRTC investigation.
While these are all useful steps largely modelled on similar developments in the United States, even Champagne acknowledged that this is “just a first step.” So what else should be on the government’s to-do list?
Responding to the Rogers Outage: Time to Get Serious About Competition, Consumer Rights, and Communications Regulation
Like many Canadians, I spent most of the massive Rogers outage completely offline. With the benefit of hindsight, my family made a big mistake by relying on a single provider for everything: broadband, home phone, cable, and wireless services on a family plan. When everything went down, everything really went down. No dial tone, no channels, no connectivity. Work was challenging and contact with the kids shut off. It was disorienting and a reminder of our reliance on communications networks for virtually every aspect of our daily lives.
So what comes next? We cannot let this become nothing more than a “what did you do” memory alongside some nominal credit from Rogers for the inconvenience. Canada obviously has a competition problem when it comes to communications services resulting in some of the highest wireless and broadband pricing in the developed world. Purchasing more of those services as a backup – whether an extra broadband or cellphone connection – will be unaffordable to most and only exacerbate the problem. Even distributing the services among providers likely means that consumers take a financial hit as they walk away from the benefits from a market that has incentivized bundling discounts. Consumers always pay the price in these circumstances, but there are policy solutions that could reduce the risk of catastrophic outages and our reliance on a single provider for so many essential services.