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Ofcom Fines Three UK £1.89m for Flawed Access to Emergency Services

Friday, Jun 16th, 2017 (9:47 am) - Score 1,235

The telecoms regulator has today hit mobile operator Three UK with a fine of £1,890,000 after its network was temporarily unable to provide customers in Kent, Hampshire and parts of London with access to the emergency services (police, fire etc.), which wasn’t helped by reliance on a single data centre.

The investigation began last October 2016 after Three UK voluntarily notified Ofcom of a problem with the availability of their network (here). The regulator’s General Condition 3.1 rule requires every communications provider to “take all necessary measures to maintain, to the greatest extent possible, the proper and effective functioning of its network at all times … and uninterrupted access to emergency organisations for their end-users.”

Most operators will ensure that their networks are “sufficiently resilient,” which should include protecting emergency calls even during technical problems. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case on Three UK’s platform, where emergency calls from customers in the affected area had to pass through a particular data centre in order to reach the emergency services (i.e. a single point of failure).

On top of that Three UK’s automated back-up routes also went through the same data centre, which might have cut costs for the operator but it in an emergency it could also cut lives.

three uk network failure

We should point out that the network fault itself wasn’t with the data centre, but having a single point of failure is a big no-no for Ofcom. The good news is that Three UK has now added an additional back-up route for such traffic, although the regulator has still decided to fine them for their failure to ensure a good level of resilience.

Gaucho Rasmussen, Ofcom’s Enforcement 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.”

The regulator notes that Three UK “did not act deliberately or recklessly,” although the fine is designed to reflect the potential impact on public health and safety. The penalty, which must be paid within 20 working days (it will then be passed to HM Treasury), includes a 30% reduction after Three UK made Ofcom’s job easier by owning up to their mistake and responding positively to the investigation.

Separately the incumbent telecoms provider for Hull in East Yorkshire, KCOM, is facing a similar investigation (here).

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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