LILLEY: Rogers outage disastrous in the technological age

The nationwide outage really put into focus how much our lives rely on technology

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Do we rely on technology too much?

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It certainly felt that way to me Friday morning as the Rogers outage shut down cellphone service, internet service and payment systems in major centres across Canada.

I was supposed to join Bill Carroll on the radio on 580 CFRA in Ottawa just after 8 a.m. when I noticed my phone wasn’t working. I tried to connect through my laptop but realized there was no Wi-Fi connection.

Did I forget to pay the bill? No, it was worse than that.

I could get TV service and had the recap of last night’s NHL draft playing in the background as I tried to figure out what was happening. It’s hard to turn on the radio to hear the news when your radio is a Google speaker. Can’t turn to Twitter or TorontoSun.com for the latest news because there is no connection.

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Even my condo building, which has Wi-Fi in some common areas, is on Rogers.

It wasn’t until I walked the dog up the street and came upon a crowd of people outside of Starbucks that I could confirm what had happened. The inside of the store was packed, the tables outside filled with members of the laptop army busily working or scrolling away on the free connection.

A person looks at their cellphone displaying a Rogers service interruption alert on Friday, July 8, 2022.
A person looks at their cellphone displaying a Rogers service interruption alert on Friday, July 8, 2022. Photo by Graham Hughes /THE CANADIAN PRESS

A group of people not even buying anything stood near the windows, phone in hand, trying to connect anyway they could. These are the frightened, huddled masses of the technological age.

I’ve lived like this before, it was called the 70s, 80s and early 90s. A lot has changed in that time though — changes we take for granted on a daily basis.

Like how we pay for things.

I regularly order coffee or breakfast from my phone while walking towards my local Starbucks, Timmy’s or McDonald’s. Without a mobile connection, those apps aren’t very useful. Plenty of places also found their payment systems didn’t work properly with signs going up for cash only.

Even using a bank app to send money wasn’t working for me Friday.

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It took the disaster of the Rogers outage to get me working at a desk back in the office. I tried ordering an Uber to get to the office quicker but remembered the app wouldn’t work. And good luck hailing a cab these days, there are fewer of them.

Tried looking for a payphone lately? There aren’t many and in my part of Toronto they look like super spreaders for a whole host of diseases and viruses.

The Postmedia headquarters on Bloor St in Toronto is just down the street from the Rogers Global Empire and people passing by weren’t happy.

One man stopped to say he was switching carriers over the outage. Another man on a motorcycle hurled obscenities at the building. Across the street, Rogers customers clogged another Starbucks trying to connect.

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Malik, working the Popeye’s Chicken outlet, gave a big smile when I asked him if the outage was hurting his store.

“I’m on the Bell network,” he said, happier than words can describe.

The outage has lots of people angry at Rogers, others claiming this is due to a lack of competition in Canada’s telecom sector. While I agree we need more competition, and not just smaller carriers for the big guys to buy up, competition wouldn’t fix this issue.

Friday’s outage really put into focus how much our lives rely on technology. When it works it’s wonderful, when it doesn’t it is infuriating and upsets how we work, travel, shop and dine out.

Frustrating as Friday was, I wouldn’t go back to living without my phone or my apps, at least not unless Rogers goes down again.

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