Mobile network Three has been fined £1.9m after telecoms regulator Ofcom found some customers were unable to dial 999.
All UK networks are expected to ensure emergency calls can be connected “at all times,” a requirement the regulator says is “of utmost importance to public health and safety.” However an investigation by Ofcom has revealed the network’s emergency call service was vulnerable to a single point of failure.
Last October Three notified Ofcom of a temporary loss of service affecting customers in Kent, Hampshire and parts of London.
It later emerged that emergency calls from customers in these areas had to pass through a particular data centre in order to reach the emergency services, meaning Three’s emergency call service “was vulnerable to a single point of failure.”
Ofcom says the network should have been able to automatically divert emergency calls via back-up routes in the event of a local outage, however these back-up routes would also have failed because they were all directed through this one point.
Three has now added an additional back-up route to carry emergency call traffic to resolve the incident and address the underlying network weakness.
While it stresses “Three did not act deliberately or recklessly,” Ofcom says the size of the fine “reflects the seriousness of the breach, given the potential impact on public health and safety.”
Gaucho Rasmussen, Ofcom’s Enforcement and Investigations Director, said: “Telephone access to the emergency services is extremely important, because failures can have serious consequences for people’s 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.”
In a statement, Three said: “Providing our customers with uninterrupted access to emergency services is a requirement we take extremely seriously. Three therefore acknowledges Ofcom’s decision today to fine Three for a single point of vulnerability on Three’s network.
“However, this vulnerability has not had any impact on our customers and only relates to a potential point of failure in Three’s network.
“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.
“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 also recognised today that Three has cooperated fully during its investigation and has taken steps to further strengthen the resilience of Three’s network.”