Three hit with £1.9m fine for emergency call failure

19 June 2017

Mobile phone provider Three has been fined £1,890,000 by regulator Ofcom for breaching rules regarding emergency calls.

An investigation found that Three had broken a rule designed to ensure customers are able to make emergency phone calls, even if there are issues with the network.

On 6 October 2016, Three notified the regulator that it had suffered a signal failure affecting customers in Kent, Hampshire and parts of London.

The subsequent investigation revealed that all emergency calls in these areas were being passed through one data centre – something which left the service vulnerable to a single point of failure.

This is against Ofcom rules, which require all emergency calls to have a back-up route.

Diagram explaining Three emergency network failure

While the regulator says Three did not act deliberately or recklessly, it has imposed the £1.9 million fine as it considers this a major public health and safety breach. Ofcom say it “expects providers’ emergency call services to be sufficiently resilient”.

The fine will be passed on to HM Treasury and Three has also installed additional back-up routes for emergency calls.

‘Failures can have serious consequences’

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

“The fine serves as a clear warning to the wider telecoms industry. Providers must take all necessary steps to ensure uninterrupted access to emergency services.”

A statement from Three says: “Providing our customers with uninterrupted access to emergency services is a requirement we take extremely seriously. Three therefore acknowledges Ofcom’s decision 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 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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