Thank you, Madam Chair, and welcome, everyone.
Good afternoon. I am Dean Prevost, president, Rogers for Business, at Rogers Communications. I am joining you today from Calgary. With me in Toronto is my colleague David Watt, senior vice-president, regulatory, at Rogers. We appreciate this opportunity to appear.
Rogers understands that we provide critical services, and we have stepped up to the challenges during this period. We've been focused on protecting our employees and customers and ensuring Canadians stay connected. We thank our front-line teams that are working hard to deliver critical services to our customers.
We are going to address our network performance, how we have addressed our operating challenges, our support programs for our customers and our country’s challenges with high-speed rural Internet service.
Our networks provide the foundation for our lives today. With great efforts from our engineers and technicians, our networks are meeting the challenge. Throughout the average day, home Internet usage is up over 50%, while voice-call usage on our wireless network is up 40%. On average, our customers are making over 50 million wireless voice calls per day. Meanwhile, 1-800 toll-free calls are up over 300%. We augmented our 1-800 lines for the federal government support programs in record time, significantly increasing capacity to 40,000 simultaneous calls. Canadians are relying on us, our connectivity and our resilient networks.
Our engineering and field technicians are front-line heroes, maintaining our services and supporting health care providers in many ways, including deploying temporary cell sites on wheels to increase capacity to hospitals; running fibre in parking lots and fields and extending fixed wireless to create new COVID-19 testing centres; and bringing more Wi-Fi to hospitals, seniors homes and homeless shelters.
In order to serve our customers and keep everyone safe, we changed the way we operate almost overnight. We enhanced our self-install services to deliver an easy way for our customers to activate services safely from inside their homes. We closed about 90% of our retail stores, with the open locations providing urgent customer support for our services. Also, we rapidly enabled our customer care team members to work from home. Customers can still call us. Service levels are still strong. In February, we had only 800 care agents serving our customers from home. Today, virtually all of our 7,000 customer care agents are serving our customers from their homes here in Canada.
Many of our customers are facing difficult circumstances. Here are some of the measures we’ve brought in to assist them.
We’re lifting usage caps for home Internet plans, eliminating overage charges. We’re waiving Canadian long-distance calling fees for homes and small businesses. We’re offering a free rotating selection of TV channels, including children’s programming, to keep Canadians entertained.
We’ve added more flexible payment options and a commitment that customers will remain connected to their service so nobody has to worry about losing their digital lifeline. We’re helping small businesses stay productive and connected with free and affordable technologies, including offering Microsoft Teams and Office 365 free for six months. We also waived international roaming fees so that more than 150,000 Canadians stayed connected at no additional cost while they returned home from abroad.
The Rogers team is also focused on helping some of the most vulnerable in our communities. One example is that we're working with the Ontario government, local school boards and Apple to provide learning software enabled iPads with wireless data at no cost to students in need. We’re now rolling out this initiative in other provinces, including with the Winnipeg School Division in Manitoba.
In addition to this and other local efforts, we’ve launched national partnerships with community organizations to help the most vulnerable. We’ve partnered with Food Banks Canada to donate over one million meals, and our employees donated an additional half a million meals on top of that. We’re providing smart phones, in collaboration with Samsung, with six months of free wireless service to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada. We’ve also partnered with women’s shelters in Canada to make devices and plans available to help address the rise in domestic violence.
Turning to high-speed rural Internet service, with the enormous size of Canada, there are rural locations where Canadians do not have the Internet service they need. To help, we launched a new Rocket hub wireless plan that includes a larger data bucket with the lowest cost for extra data we've ever offered to help rural Canadians reduce costs if they spend more time working and learning from home.
Unfortunately, where we do not have high-capacity, high-speed wireline networks, we are not able to provide unlimited wireless data for Internet access at home at this time. Put simply, wireline networks take 50 to 200 times the capacity for consumers as rural mobile wireless networks. Removing data caps would simply overwhelm the mobile wireless network, impairing services for everyone in that area, including the first responders and 911 services that rely on it. This is particularly true today, when both students and workers are turning to video, including Skype, Teams, FaceTime and Zoom in an unprecedented way, as we are doing here today.
Network expansions in rural and remote locations take time and funding. As a nation, we need to aggressively address Canada's digital divide together through coordinated public-private partnerships. Sustained investment in networks is essential to help Canadians rebuild our economy. We have some of the best networks in the world, and we need to work in partnership to extend them to all Canadians, as challenging as those economics are.
Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this review.