Federal bureaucrats cautious about network overload as remote work increases


TORONTO — 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.

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

Telus Corp. said Friday it would waive all Easy Roam and pay-per-use mobility roaming charges for Telus and Koodo customers stranded in countries such as China and Italy and expanded the list on Monday.

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 for those with postpaid Rogers and Fido  plans and for small businesses until April 30.

Rogers also said it would not suspend or disconnect any Rogers or Fido customers experiencing financial difficulties over the next 90 days, to June 14.

On Friday, Telus announced it would provide flexible payment options to customers who are financially affected by the crisis.

Most of Canada’s internet network operator-owners have also announced since Friday that they will temporarily remove the data limits on any of their residential internet services because of the COVID-19 epidemic.

Companies in this story: (TSX:RCI.B, TSX:BCE, TSX:T, TSX:SJR.B, TSX:QBR.B)

David Paddon, The Canadian Press