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UPD Ofcom – KCOM Failed to Maintain Emergency Services Access in Hull

Friday, October 7th, 2016 (11:13 am) - Score 1,083

The UK telecoms regulator has found “reasonable grounds for believing” that KCOM in East Yorkshire and Hull (England) “failed” to take sufficient measures to maintain uninterrupted telephone access to emergency services on 999 and 112 between 25th Feb 2009 to 28th Dec 2015.

The situation originally began in February 2016 after KCOM, to its merit, notified Ofcom that its phone service in the region had suffered a “temporary reduction in availability.” ISPreview.co.uk understands that this occurred as a result of damaged caused by Storm Eva at the end of January 2016.

Under the rules KCOM are required to take all necessary technical and organisational measures to manage any risks to the security of their public electronic communications networks, which among other things includes the need to provide “uninterrupted access to emergency organisations” (police, fire etc.).

Sadly KCOM’s network was impacted, albeit only for a short time, while they re-routed some call traffic. However Ofcom’s latest update suggests that KCOM may have suffered related problems over a much wider period (we suspect they mean brief occurrences within the wider period).

Ofcom’s Statement

Following an investigation, Ofcom has determined that there are reasonable grounds for believing that KCOM contravened General Condition 3.1(c) from 25 February 2009 to 28 December 2015. Ofcom has therefore issued a Notification to KCOM under section 96A of the Communications Act 2003.

Specifically, Ofcom has reasonable grounds for believing that KCOM failed to take sufficient measures to maintain uninterrupted telephone access to emergency services on 999 and 112 in breach of GC3.1(c). Given the findings in relation to GC3.1(c), Ofcom did not go on to consider whether KCOM has contravened section 105A of the Act.

KCOM now has an opportunity to make representations to Ofcom on the matters contained in the Notification before Ofcom makes a final decision in accordance with section 96C of the Communications Act 2003.

At this stage we don’t yet have the full details of Ofcom’s investigation, although at the very least we’d expect them to be reviewing KCOM’s procedures and this may be followed in the future by some recommendations for improvements. A financial penalty is also possible.

UPDATE 3:06pm

A spokesperson for KCOM told ISPreview.co.uk, “This is a draft decision by Ofcom, which we will be reviewing carefully over the coming weeks. We take our regulatory obligations seriously and will be working closely with Ofcom to ensure any concerns are addressed and that the final decision accurately reflects the situation.”

Leave a Comment
13 Responses
  1. Avatar Steve Jones

    “However KCOM are one of the two operators, including BT, that hold responsibility under the existing Universal Service Obligation (USO). As part of that they are required to take all necessary technical and organisational measures to manage any risks to the security of their public electronic communications networks, which among other things includes the need to provide “uninterrupted access to emergency organisations” (police, fire etc.).”

    Isn’t General Condition 3.1(c) part of the general conditions of the licence for all fixed line voice operators, and not specifically part of the USO? For instance, isn’t Virgin Media (as a fixed line voice operator) also covered by the general conditions. For that matter, presumably the LLU operators are also required to conform insofar as they are operators of fixed line services (although I assume that some parts are covered by OR – like the provision of line power and battery backup at exchanges.

    There are specific provisions under the USO for maintaining public call boxes with emergency services though, and they only apply to BT and KCOM.

    However, I do know that VOIP operators are not under the same responsibilities. Presumably the pure fibre operators don’t offer fixed line voice over fibre, but VOIP as that gets them out of this obligation.

  2. Avatar Evan Crissall

    The near 100% coverage and availability of cellular telephony renders this obligation of fixed-wire operators redundant.

    • Try telling that to me again when you’re trying to get through to me on my mobile at home. Hopeless. I don’t even live in the middle of nowhere, I’m in a suburban estate in middle England. There’s just a dip that the signal can’t reach into.

    • Avatar TheManStan

      It’s been shown that in serious events that mobile phone cells can become overloaded and that the fall back to land line is essential…

    • Avatar TheFacts

      Or switched off in very serious situations, as can land lines.

    • Avatar Regis

      Anyone who believes mobiles are 100% reliable is a fool, try making a call at midnight jan 1st and you may well find you can’t. Mind you i must ask wouldnt BT also be under fire for the same thing……… example the story ispreview did a while back where a cable theft knocked out a lot of peoples landlines and internet? or am i reading it wrong and ofcom are kicking off because kcom changed the routeing of the calls for whatever reason and “lost” one or two?

    • Avatar Evan Crissall

      Lots of inaccuracies and bunkum above.

      For starters, GSM calls are prioritised into 15 different “access control classes”. Google “MTPAS” (Mobile Telecommunication Privileged Access Scheme) for details.

      The highest classes of call (classes 10-15) are for emergency services only. Those calls always take precedence. If the cell is saturated, non-emergency comms are blocked to allow emergency calls through.

      Secondly, since 2009, all carriers must allow emergency call roaming. If you’re on Vodafone, but are out of signal and can’t place a 999 call on the home network – then the call is automatically routed through one of the other carriers.

      Thirdly, all networks – fixed and wireless – deploy statistical multiplexing to minimize plant and bandwidth requirements; basing provisioning on satisfying ‘busy-hour’ demands.

      In theory, this could mean – in absolute extreme conditions – that there aren’t enough unique signal paths from originator to terminator, to meet all those busy-hour calls. In practice that never happens. Because of careful provisioning in statistical multiplexing. And because there have never* been any crisis situations in which so many emergency calls are simultaneously placed that calls have gotten blocked. It’s never happened.

      * at this point, someone invariably cites 9/11 or 7/7. Those people need to go study what did actual happen back then.

    • Avatar TheFacts

      What did happen to mobile networks on 7/7 in London?

  3. Avatar David Howell

    I visit a village along an A road where just like @Philip Edwards above there is no mobile signal for the same reasons – and I mean NO signal – none whatsoever and the residents living there on another network report the same.
    Looking at the coverage charts for all the networks confirm that yes indeed there is no signal in that part of the village, cos its in a sort of dip.
    Yes there have been complaints and no nothing is being done about it
    Do I take it from @Evan’s comments that if I was to try and make an emergency call from the house on a mobile that it would suddenly mysteriously start to work – I suspect not.

    another village – more rural this time seems to have a functional text service on mobile but mostly no 2G service: any call placed to a mobile in the place just goes to voicemail.
    I’m sure smart gas/elec meters will be a great success in both these places!

    In landlines, I too at home have been the subject of BT E-side cable theft and it took BT working dawn to dusk 7 days a week just over a week to repair it and in the meantime that was no landline voice or internet service – and round here 3G is basically non functional, though 2G seems to work most of the time.

    • Avatar Leptin

      I wouldn’t waste your effort David. judging by his posts on some other news, evan is clearly the resident troll.

    • Avatar Evan Crissall

      Let’s try and be pragmatic. In the US, the vast majority (>70%) of calls to emergency services are made from mobiles*. Likely an even high percentage is true for the UK.

      In emergencies, the mobile is indispensible in countless scenarios, compared to the landline. In practice most crises happen outside the home, well away from a landline.

      I know what I’d sooner rely on – mobile or landline – in a road accident in Snowdonia after dark. Or as a single woman being followed at night on the subway. Or as a hill-walker with a broken ankle from a fall. Or as a youth stabbed by thugs in the ginnel.

      The cellphone can easily substitute in the home for a landline, but rarely vice-versa. At least not practicably substituting outside.

      In the past, the downside to placing emergency calls from a cellphone was lack of geolocation. But this is largely overcome these days. Through the almost universal inclusion of GPS receivers in today’s smartphones. Coupled to the Radio Resource Location Protocol (RRLP) included in the 3GPP standards. RRLP allows the carrier network to obtain the current GPS fix of the phone, and forwarded to the emergency service controller.

      * https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/911-wireless-services

  4. Avatar DTMark

    A couple of years ago flooding took out the power in this area several times in as many days, and the battery at the exchange ran out, so landlines stopped working, even with old style handsets.

    One resident was especially infuriated by this and seemed to believe that BT were under some obligation to provide service in a power cut.

    When we investigated this, we found the relevant legislation simply said that the operator should continue to supply access “to the greatest extent possible”.

    In other words, there is no actual requirement, the wording renders that meaningless in practical terms. The battery ran out. With what was available, services were supplied to the greatest extent possible.

    After complaining, BT responded to say that they now had generators at the exchange where they did not before.

    So it’s not a big deal if it’s BT, but it’s a big deal if it’s another operator?

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