Where were you when the wifi went out?

Work in Progress/By Ivan Morgan

It kind of snuck up on us.

Last week’s Rogers day-long outage got a lot of people thinking. Like many I was without service for a day. For me it was an annoyance, (mostly because my cell service is with a different company). For many it was a hardship, for some it was a disaster.

I was surprised how many people were affected, and how serious it was.

Several months ago, Facebook crashed for the day. I remember some young people telling me what a hardship that was. I asked how long they were without Facebook. Twelve hours one young person told me breathlessly. Then I told them about my first Facebook blackout – the first 47 years of my life. Faces blanched.

This was different. Debit didn’t work in many places. 911 was not available in others.

Not cool.

It’s interesting how this outage showed us all how this service has insinuated itself into our lives. Most of us didn’t see it coming.

Rogers bills itself a communications and media company. Friday taught us it appears to be a lot more. Is it a public utility? It’s starting to look that way.

Years ago, I would taunt then Avalon Cablevision president (and political hopeful) Danny Williams, calling his company a utility, just to piss him off (it did). My argument in those days was they were the only cable company in town, and I figured most people would give up their water before their cable, rather than being forced to talk to each other or read a book!

I was kidding.

This is a whole different thing, much more serious than not being able to watch reruns of The Bachelorette.

So, what’s going to be done? At the time of writing, the federal Liberal minister of Innovation, Science and Industry (is it me or are the titles getting sillier?) was in the media full of righteous indignation calling on the three big tech companies to come up with a plan to protect the public from future outages. There were lots of pictures of him looking serious and concerned. He used words like “unacceptable.” This from the government who can’t run passport offices or a payroll system?

Does anyone – anyone – buy this type of political theatrics anymore?

His behaviour wasn’t aimed at Rogers, this was for our benefit. Quick, give the minister something to say! He said nothing about how they dropped the ball, didn’t see this coming, haven’t done much to make sure this doesn’t happen. Is ‘asleep at the wheel’ too harsh a criticism?

Last year, Rogers’ profit was $4.694 billion – down almost 50 per cent from the year before. That’s a lot of money. It appears we are paying way too much for our service.

So, what’s to be done?

Some say the answer is more competition between service providers. We only have three for all of Canada.

No less an authority than The Washington Post noted that these three Canadian telecom companies were “more than happy to use the constrained market to bilk customers.” Anyone who has negotiated the shell game that they call service bundling knows that.

Maybe more competition is the answer. Elon Musk wants to bring us all satellite internet. Might that help drive down prices and profits of the Big Three?

Or maybe – as it’s a service we appear to have come to depend on – we should make it a publicly regulated utility.

In the past we have decided that a service that benefits us all should be managed publicly to serve us all. We decided decades ago to do that with public health and… Oh, right.

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