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Three fined £1.9m over emergency services call vulnerability

Neil Merrett Published 16 June 2017

Ofcom penalises company over failure to ensure alternative network capability to guarantee uninterrupted calls to emergency services last October


Telecommunications provider Three said it has improved network resilience to provide uninterrupted emergency service calls after being fined £1.9m by regulator Ofcom for failing to meet its obligations last year.

At a time where the public sector is scoping device and standards for the replacement Emergency Services Network (ESN), the penalty reflects the pressures of ensuring consistent and stable communications with the police, fire and ambulance services.

In a statement, the company said that it had been fined over a “single point of vulnerability” in its network that resulted in a potential failure for ensuring uninterrupted access to call the emergency services.

“Ofcom identified this vulnerability when investigating a separate, unprecedented and unforeseeable October 2016 fibre break outage on Three’s network. This resulted in a temporary loss of emergency call services affecting some customers. Three took immediate action and the issue was quickly resolved,” said Three in a statement.

“Ofcom recognises that the circumstances surrounding the October 2016 fibre break outage were exceptional and outside of Three’s control.  As a result, the incident itself was not a breach of Ofcom’s rules.”

Ofcom has argued that Three had broken a rule requiring providers to ensure customers can contact emergency services at any time, even when a company or their network is experiencing technical problems.

The regulator said it had been informed by Three on October 6, 2016 that there had been a temporary loss of service affecting customers in Kent, Hampshire and certain parts of London.  Upon investigation, the regulator said that any emergency calls in these areas were required to pass through a single data centre that would make emergency service calls vulnerable to one point of failure.

“Three’s network should have been able to automatically divert emergency calls via back-up routes in the event of a local outage. But these back-up routes would also have failed because they were all directed through this one point,” said Ofcom.

“To resolve the incident and address the underlying network weakness, Three added an additional back-up route to carry emergency call traffic.”

In imposing the fine, Ofcom said that Three was not found to have behaved recklessly or deliberately over the vulnerability, yet the failure to ensure alternative service provision was seen of a serious breach of health and safety requirements.

“The investigation has now been settled. The penalty incorporates a 30% reduction to reflect the co-operation offered by Three during the investigation, including admitting the breaches identified by Ofcom,” the regulator said.

“Ofcom also acknowledges the steps Three has taken to ensure ongoing compliance with our emergency call service rules.”

Gaucho Rasmussen, Ofcom’s director for enforcement and investigations, said any failure to ensure continuous communications with emergency services had serious consequences for public safety and wellbeing.

“Today’s fine serves as a clear warning to the wider telecoms industry. Providers must take all necessary steps to ensure uninterrupted access to emergency services,” he said.

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