‘We need bet­ter net­works’

Ex­perts raise con­cern over lat­est out­age in At­lantic Canada

Cape Breton Post - - Front Page - BY MICHAEL TUTTON

Fri­day’s Bell Aliant out­age in many parts of At­lantic Canada has di­alled up concerns among ex­perts about the se­cu­rity of the re­gion’s telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions sys­tem.

Ea­mon Hoey, a man­age­ment con­sul­tant in Toronto who has worked in the field for over four decades, said in an in­ter­view the break­down of Bell’s sys­tem due to cuts in cru­cial fi­bre op­tic links raises ques­tions about whether there is suf­fi­cient backup.

“We need bet­ter net­works. We need more ro­bust net­works. This case in the At­lantic prov­inces sug­gests we don’t have it,’’ he said on Mon­day from his home in Toronto.

The break­down af­fected emer­gency ser­vices in some parts of the re­gion, caused wide­spread cel­lu­lar tele­phone out­ages on Telus, Bell, Vir­gin and Koodo, and also in­ter­rupted in­ter­net and some land line ser­vices for about four hours, be­gin­ning late Fri­day morn­ing. The Rogers and Eastlink net­works con­tin­ued to op­er­ate.

Emer­gency mea­sures agen­cies in Nova Sco­tia and New Brunswick said Tues­day they will be in talks with Bell fol­low­ing the out­age.

In 2011, a cut in a Bell fi­bre op­tic line in north­ern New Brunswick led to ser­vice out­ages through many parts of that prov­ince for about three hours.

Hoey says the re­gion’s net­work is heav­ily reliant on Bell’s fi­bre op­tic sys­tem, and said the CRTC should con­sider the need for more backup meth­ods.

The vet­eran con­sul­tant also says he be­lieves the fed­eral reg­u­la­tor should be col­lect­ing and post­ing de­tailed in­for­ma­tion on all sim­i­lar out­ages around the coun­try.

“How ef­fec­tive are the car­ri­ers in keep­ing their net­works up and run­ning? We have no idea,’’ he said.

Michael Cada, a pro­fes­sor of elec­tri­cal and com­puter en­gi­neer­ing at Dal­housie Univer­sity, also said in an in­ter­view that the out­age sug­gests a sec­ond net­work, or a backup method such as a satel­lite sys­tem, should be avail­able.

“There should al­ways be a backup plan. There should al­ways be some­body else to ide­ally com­pete and if not com­pete to have an al­ter­na­tive route,’’ said Cada, whose re­search in­ter­ests in­clude fi­bre op­tic tech­nolo­gies.

“In the fu­ture, I would try to al­low more com­pe­ti­tion.’’

Bell has is­sued a short state­ment say­ing it is in­ves­ti­gat­ing “an extraordinary sit­u­a­tion,’’ and that there were mul­ti­ple breaks in the sys­tem caused by a third-party con­trac­tor.

The com­pany has de­clined to pro­vide an of­fi­cial for an in­ter­view, though it con­firmed in an email on Tues­day the cuts oc­curred in Drum­mondville, in east­ern Que­bec, and in Richibucto, N.B. Telus was un­avail­able for com­ment.

Greg MacCal­lum, di­rec­tor of the New Brunswick Emer­gency Mea­sures Or­ga­ni­za­tion, said in an in­ter­view that in his prov­ince the out­age meant that when peo­ple called 911 their lo­ca­tion wasn’t com­ing up, though reg­u­lar voice ser­vice was work­ing for peo­ple able to call in.

Fire­fight­ers were re­called to their sta­tions and am­bu­lances were sta­tioned around sev­eral cities as a pre­cau­tion, he added.

MacCal­lum said he will be hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions with Bell to learn more about fu­ture con­tin­gency plans for sim­i­lar out­ages.

“They have a pri­mary and al­ter­nate fi­bre sys­tem that runs into At­lantic Canada and this is a per­fect com­bi­na­tion of bad cir­cum­stances, where one broke and they were us­ing the al­ter­nate and it got bro­ken,’’ he said.

“Our crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture man­ager is go­ing to be con­duct­ing a re­view ... on what Bell’s con­tin­gency plan is go­ing for­ward here to ad­dress this kind of cir­cum­stance go­ing for­ward,’’ he said.

Ce­line Le­gault, a spokes­woman for the CRTC, con­firmed that the fed­eral reg­u­la­tor doesn’t re­tain re­ports on all ser­vice out­ages.

How­ever, Le­gault said that a 2016 de­ci­sion by the reg­u­la­tor de­ter­mined Canadian 911 net­works “are re­li­able and re­silient.’’

“Fol­low­ing this de­ci­sion, the CRTC is es­tab­lish­ing re­quire­ments re­gard­ing no­ti­fi­ca­tion of 911 ser­vice out­ages. The CRTC also re­quires that all 911 net­work providers file with it an an­nual re­port on 911 net­work out­ages that cause 911 ser­vice out­ages,’’ she wrote in an email.

The 911 sys­tems con­tin­ued to op­er­ate in Prince Ed­ward Is­land, New­found­land and Labrador, and Nova Sco­tia. A spokes­woman for P.E.I.’s Pub­lic Safety De­part­ment also said the 911 features on the Bell and Telus cell phones con­tin­ued to work.

Paul Ma­son, the act­ing di­rec­tor of the Emer­gency Mea­sures Or­ga­ni­za­tion in Nova Sco­tia, said the out­age is a con­cern for his or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“We’ve had some pre­lim­i­nary dis­cus­sions with Bell ... and we’ll have fur­ther dis­cus­sions,’’ he said.

Ma­son said the last ma­jor telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion in­ci­dent in Nova Sco­tia was in De­cem­ber 2015, when a work­place mishap in Hal­i­fax re­sulted in an out­age in the cap­i­tal.

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