A blackout at telco Rogers has caused widespread disruption to essential services across Canada, including bringing many of the country’s payments systems to a halt
Payment services at Canada’s domestic debit card and e-transfer service Interac have now been fully restored after a telecoms outage brought widespread chaos to the country’s banking and payments system.
On Saturday morning (July 9), Interac took to Twitter to tell customers that its service was now fully operational again after its telecoms provider had restored connectivity.
Nearly 24 hours earlier, Interac reported: “There is a nationwide Rogers outage that encompasses all their business and consumer network services.
“This is impacting INTERAC Debit and INTERAC eTransfer. INTERAC Debit is currently unavailable online and at checkout.”
The interruption affected most banks and financial institutions in Canada as a result, leaving customers unable to make payments and use mobile banking. Several banks also reported that ATMs were down, restricting access to cash.
Interac Debit is the largest debit card network in Canada, accounting for the vast majority of in-person point of sale payments and ATM transactions.
According to Payments Canada there were 5.2bn debit card transactions made in 2020, and around 600m ATM withdrawals.
In May, Interac reported that its e-Transfer service was now used by nine out of ten Canadians, and had reached the milestone of 1bn transactions in a 12-month period.
Local media also reported that Visa customers were having issues. However, a spokesperson for Visa said this was due to merchants whose payment terminals rely on Rogers’ network, rather than issues with the card network’s service.
Reflecting experiences across Canada, Digital Government and Services in Newfoundland and Labrador informed its service users that it was temporarily only accepting cash and cheques, due to it being unable to process Interac transactions.
The extent of the outage and lack of contingency has led to much customer criticism. One small business user noted: “Why is a mission critical service like Interac solely dependent on a single internet provider (Rogers) - inexcusable!”
Another drew parallels to the access to cash debate: “Canadians experienced a major outage yesterday on a major cellular network that also took down Interac or debit payments. Every Canadian was reminded of what life without cash would be like yesterday.”
Problems at Rogers
The impact of the outage has been felt across the economy and led to widespread condemnation among consumer groups and politicians.
Reports of people struggling to contact emergency services and disruptions to various government services, including the courts, health services, passport offices and public transport, resulted in calls for an immediate investigation.
Consumer group the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), in a letter to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), called for the regulator to examine whether telcos in Canada should be “required to meet a baseline of emergency planning, refund requirements, notice and transparency and other consumer protections”.
“We do not believe that we are required to justify the seriousness of the disruption faced by consumers and citizens regarding the present outage,” PIAC added.
Rogers is the largest telecommunications company in Canada, accounting for nearly a third of all telecoms-based revenue, according to the CRTC.
Although it claims to have 10m wireless subscribers, or roughly one in three adults in the country, the company also provides business services to a number of important organisations, including Interac.
As such, the issue for many businesses was not just the inability to make and accept payments, but also to carry out basic functions, given the reliance on communication systems.
Francois-Philippe Champagne, Canada’s industry minister, tweeted that he “[s]poke to the CEO of Rogers. Shared with him the frustration of millions of Canadians. This unacceptable situation is why quality, diversity and reliability are key to our telecom network.”
Meanwhile, Jagmeet Singh, a Canadian parliamentarian and leader of the left-leaning New Democratic Party, said: “This Rogers outage highlights the dangers of our monopolised industry. Emergency services are inaccessible. Interac and Visa networks are down.”
In May, Canada’s Competition Bureau recommended a block on Rogers proposed C$26bn ($20bn) acquisition of rival Shaw Communications, claiming it wanted to protect Canadians from higher prices, poorer service quality and fewer choices.
Responding to the outage, Rogers CEO Tony Staffieri said in a statement on the company’s website: “We know you count on Rogers to connect you to emergency services, make payments, serve your customers, connect with work and keep in touch with friends and family.
“We take that responsibility very seriously and today we let you down. We can and will do better.”