A pedestrian walks past the Rogers Building in Toronto on April 22, 2014. Rogers Communications Inc. is waiving long-distance fees for mobile voice calls within Canada until April 30 as part of its response to the coronavirus outbreak. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

Federal bureaucrats cautious about network overload as remote work increases

None of those carriers reported difficulties with handling the loads they were experiencing Monday

Federal government managers and employees have been advised to take precautions to manage the load on communications systems as Canadians shift to remote working conditions during the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Among other things, the Treasury Board says the federal workforce should use mobile devices whenever possible to send and receive emails.

Federal departments and agencies have also advised remote workers to disconnect from the corporate network as soon as they get what’s needed, and to limit the use of video conferencing when audio conferencing is enough.

The recommendations were initially issued and updated during the weekend, after health and government officials across Canada and in the United States stepped up campaigns to contain, slow or delay the spread of COVID-19.

Officials have urged individuals, businesses, schools, places of worship and others to take precautions so there’s less of a chance of person-to-person transmittal of the respiratory disease.

“The government of Canada will be as flexible as possible and will not only allow, but encourage teleworking whenever and wherever possible,” Treasury Board president Jean-Yves Duclos said in a statement Monday.

“We are constantly re-assessing the situation and striving to balance both our duty to Canadians and the health and safety of all public servants.”

Many private sector employers had similar messages, resulting in a scramble for their employees to find new ways to do their job away from the workplace — often by using their home internet and personal phones to communicate.

A spokeswoman for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission said it established policies for internet traffic management and 9-1-1 emergency calls but network traffic management is mostly up to the carriers.

“The CRTC will monitor the situation as events unfold and if a need for intervention arises, we will consider all options.”

None of those carriers reported difficulties with handling the loads they were experiencing Monday but a check of Downdetector.ca — which uses technology to monitor a wide variety of online services in Canada and other countries — showed above-normal complaint levels at certain periods.

Luigi Calabrese, president of Toronto-based Frontier Networks, said the telecom system’s “plumbing” can get overloaded in extraordinary periods — like everybody flushing their toilet at the same time in a large apartment.

The COVID-19 pandemic is one of those times because so many people are working away from their usual workplace, he said.

“So, that’s a lot of toilets going off at the same time,” Calabrese said.

Borders, cases, bans: What you need to know about Canada and B.C.’s COVID-19 response

The telecom industry’s largest carriers — Rogers, Bell and Telus, as well as smaller players including Shaw, Videotron and Eastlink — have also relaxed usage restrictions or taken other measures to ease their customers’ situations.

A Rogers statement emailed to The Canadian Press on Monday said it has contingency plans to keep its customers connected.

“We are ready to manage capacity quickly if we see greater consumer demand or usage patterns change significantly,” Rogers said.

An email from Eastlink said it’s communicating regularly with customers across a variety of platforms, including email, website and social media, to explain how it’s working to ensure continuity of service.

Similar assurances were posted on coronavirus or COVID-19 web pages at Bell and Telus. Some carriers have announced extra precautions to care for the health of their employees and customers.

FibreStream, a Toronto-based company that provides Internet to about 70,000 condominiums in Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver, said it had begun to ask its customers health-related questions before installations.

“If they do not pass the screening, they will be rescheduled for a future date without penalty. This is for the health of the technician, customer and general public,” FibreStream said.

Telus Corp. — which owns the Telus, Koodo and Public Mobile brands in addition to its residential and business services — said it would close all corporate kiosks across the country, at the close of business on Monday.

However, it said storefront locations would remain open to support customers while “taking precautionary steps to protect team member health and safety by enabling a touchless experience.”

Telus Corp. has waived roaming charges for Telus and Koodo mobility customers stranded in high-risk countries outside of North America, the Caribbean, and Central America — expanding on the territory listed on Friday.

Rogers Communications Inc. said Monday that it’s waiving long-distance fees for voice calls for Rogers, Fido and Chatr customers within Canada until April 30. It will also waive roaming fees outside Canada “in all available locations” for those with postpaid Rogers and Fido plans and for small businesses until April 30.

Most of Canada’s internet network operator-owners, also known as facilities-based carriers, have announced they have temporarily removed the data limits on their residential internet services because of the COVID-19 epidemic.

A similar move was announced Monday by Distributel, one of Canada’s largest independent ISPs, noting that many of its customers chose plans with limited data because they expected to be at work and school during the day.

“We know how important it will be for people to stay connected to friends and family, as well as work, during this already stressful time. Data overage charges are not something people should be worried about right now,” Distributel CEO Matt Stein said in a statement.

David Paddon, The Canadian Press


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