Three fined £1.9m for emergency call service failure

16 June 2017

  • Mobile provider failed to ensure customers could contact emergency services at all times

Ofcom has today fined mobile phone provider Three £1,890,000, after uncovering a weakness in the mobile operator’s emergency call network.

An Ofcom investigation found that Three broke an important rule designed to ensure everyone can contact the emergency services at all times.[1] This is of utmost importance to public health and safety.

Ofcom expects providers’ emergency call services to be sufficiently resilient. This includes ensuring their networks are built to allow emergency calls to be connected, even when they experience technical problems.

What went wrong

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.[2] This meant that Three’s emergency call service was vulnerable to a single 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.

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

Vulnerable networks cannot forward transmission to emergency call handling agents

For illustrative purposes only

Ofcom’s decision and financial penalty

Following our investigation, Ofcom 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 has today imposed a penalty of £1,890,000. Our investigation found that Three did not act deliberately or recklessly. However, the fine reflects the seriousness of the breach, given the potential impact on public health and safety.

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.

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

The fine, which must be paid to Ofcom within 20 working days, will be passed on to HM Treasury.

As a result of this investigation, Ofcom expects all providers to satisfy themselves that their networks do not have any single points of failure in the routing of their emergency call traffic, which could reasonably be avoided.

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.”

ENDS

NOTES FOR EDITORS

  1. Ofcom opened an investigation into Three on 28 November 2016. Evidence gathered during the course of this investigation showed that Three breached one of Ofcom’s rules – General Condition 3.1(c) (PDF, 454.6 KB) - which requires communications providers to take all necessary measures to maintain, to the greatest extent possible, uninterrupted access to emergency organisations as part of any publicly available telephone service offered.
  2. The data centre itself was not the cause of the temporary network loss.