Mobile provider Three fined £1.9m by Ofcom for emergency call service failure

Caitlin Morrison
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Ofcom found Three had failed to ensure access to emergency services (Source: Getty)

Mobile provider Three has been fined £1.9m by Ofcom for emergency call service failures.

An investigation by the telecoms regulator found that Three broke an important rule designed to ensure everyone can contact the emergency services at all times.

"This is of utmost importance to public health and safety," Ofcom said.

On 6 October 2016, Three notified Ofcom of a temporary loss of service affecting customers in Kent, Hampshire and parts of London.

"Our investigation found that emergency calls from customers in the affected area had to pass through a particular data centre in order to reach the emergency services. This meant that Three’s emergency call service was vulnerable to a single point of failure," the watchdog said.

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

The regulator found Three had breached the requirement to ensure uninterrupted access to the emergency services. The breach of the rules was not the incident itself, but rather the weakness identified in Three’s network, Ofcom said.

The fine of £1.9m, which includes a 30 per cent reduction to reflect Three's co-operation during the investigation, must be paid within 20 working days. The money will then be passed on to the Treasury.

"Telephone access to the emergency services is extremely important, because failures can have serious consequences for people’s safety and wellbeing," said Ofcom's enforcement and investigations director, Gaucho Rasmussen.

"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."

Three's response
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.

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