Interac outage exacerbated by poor network design, says expert

With files from Paul Barker

The massive Rogers network outage on July 8 took down the Interac payment system, forcing Canadian merchants to turn away customers paying with debit cards. After its services returned to normal, the financial company issued an apology along with its commitment to add another supplier to increase its service’s resilience.

“We understand your frustration that Interac services were interrupted due to the Rogers outage,” wrote the company in a Tweet. “We apologize for the inconvenience this has caused. We are adding a supplier to strengthen our existing network redundancy so Canadians can continue to rely on Interac daily.”

Interac debit is one of Canada’s favourite payment methods and works with all major banks in Canada. According to a company press release in 2021, Canadians use Interac services an average of 18 million times a day to pay and exchange money.

The Interac shutdown lasted as long as the Rogers network outage–more than 14 hours. Given its importance, Canadians were left wondering why an established financial service was powered solely by one provider.

Telecom consultant Mark Goldberg said the impact of the outage was “exacerbated by some apparently really, really poor network design by Interac.

“That’s what caused a huge economic impact across the country, because from all appearances they were completely dependent on one supplier. It is bizarre that you would have an essential financial services network with one provider.”

To prove how dangerous that can be, on Friday morning Goldberg wrote in a five-part thread on Twitter that 30 years ago he was at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Telecom show in Geneva with the chief executive officer of Unitel, the company that opened up long-distance competition in Canadian telecommunications.

“We were being shown around the Digital Equipment Corp. booth by his friend. who was president of Digital in Canada. (He) boasted to me that his entire Canadian network, coast-to-coast, was on Unitel. I replied and said, ‘then you should fire your head of IT.’ My boss choked on his drink, and I thought he was going to kill me.

“I told the Digital CEO, the only way to have a fully survivable network was with multiple service providers, because system-wide failures happen. I told him I would put at least 10 per cent on an alternate if he depends on survivability.”

Goldberg concluded the thread by writing that “despite the hardships all of us are having, Canada’s policy favouring facilities-based competition promotes investment by multiple service providers with their own networks (that’s how we are still tweeting right now.)”

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Tom Li
Tom Li
Telecommunication and consumer hardware are Tom's main beats at IT World Canada. He loves to talk about Canada's network infrastructure, semiconductor products, and of course, anything hot and new in the consumer technology space. You'll also occasionally see his name appended to articles on cloud, security, and SaaS-related news. If you're ever up for a lengthy discussion about the nuances of each of the above sectors or have an upcoming product that people will love, feel free to drop him a line at [email protected].

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