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Vonage Fined £24.5K by Ofcom for Failure of UK VoIP Phone Service

Wednesday, December 12th, 2018 (11:22 am) - Score 1,814
ofcom uk telecoms regulator

An investigation into the availability of Vonage‘s internet phone (VoIP) service has resulted in Ofcom imposing a £24,500 penalty on the provider, which came after they discovered that the company had “failed to provide uninterrupted access” to the emergency services (999 or 112 for police, fire etc.).

The regulator’s General Condition 3.1 (GC3.1) rule requires communication providers to “take all necessary measures to maintain, to the greatest extent possible (a) the proper and effective functioning of the public communications network at all times (b) in the event of catastrophic network breakdown or in cases of force majeure the fullest availability of the public communications network and telephone services and (c) uninterrupted access to emergency organisations for their end-users.”

On top of that Section 105A(4) of the Communications Act 2003 requires CPs to take all appropriate steps to protect, “so far as possible,” the availability of the provider’s public electronic communications network. Unfortunately Vonage’s move in January 2018 to implement “technical changes” to the way calls were routed on its network ended up briefly disrupting access to the emergency services.

In the end Ofcom blamed this on a “failure to complete emergency call testing,” which would have identified the problem.

Ofcom Statement

Although the company carried out testing to ensure that regular calls were still being connected during the transition, it failed to test the emergency call numbers, 999 and 112, as part of this process. Vonage therefore failed to identify that emergency calls were not connecting successfully following the routing changes it had made.

Our investigation concluded that Vonage had broken our rules, which require communications providers to maintain uninterrupted access to the emergency services.

We have imposed a penalty of £24,500 on the company. This figure includes a 30% discount as a result of Vonage admitting liability and agreeing to settle the case. The penalty will be paid to HM Paymaster General.

Vonage has since made changes to its network and testing processes to minimise the risk of a similar incident occurring in future. The outcome helps to highlight the growing importance of Voice-over-IP (VoIP) service stability, which is becoming more essential as UK broadband ISP users increasingly switch away from traditional phone line services.

Both Three UK and KCOM were last year also hit with fines (here and here) after network problems, such as a major outage, meant they were similarly unable to provide some or all of their customers with access to the emergency services.

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Mark Jackson
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 Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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11 Responses
  1. chris conder

    Considering it was only a ‘brief’ outage and most people have mobiles and can ring other people and ask them to make an emergency call I would just like to comment here. I have been on vonage since it started and have no complaints, having had to make calls to those numbers over the years with no problems. Unlike the time when I was on a BT phone line and was constantly getting cut off for weeks on end. I think ofcom should concentrate on squaring up BT and not picking on other providers. Although it is good to know our regulator is keeping an eye on everything…

    • Gadget

      The Vonage case reflects a fault on their platform, not tested during implementation, which according to their website has customers of around 2 million worldwide.

    • Guy Cashmore

      I couldn’t agree more, today not one of the 5 BT phone lines into our hamlet is working, this has happened time and time again due to BT’s failure to carry out any preventative maintenance. As we also have no mobile signal at ground level here, right now the only way any of the residents here could make a 999 call is at my house via VOIP routing through my chimney height high gain 4G antenna. Pathetic of OFCOM to be fining Vonage while leaving areas like mine completely cut off, we have complained and complained but they are totally disinterested.

    • Oggy

      Poor Guy, he doesn’t understand the difference between a line fault and a platform fault.

      If BT had the same kind of platform fault that Vonage had they’d get fined to.

      But hey, just turn it into BT/Openreach bashing without understanding the actual issue!

    • Guy Cashmore

      @ Oggy

      If you suffered the appalling standard of service from BT that we do here in rural Devon, you would want to bash them at every opportunity too. 3 years of ‘deadlock’ and counting.

    • New_Londoner

      @Guy
      Presumably you have turned to the relevant ombudsman within the last three years? What was the outcome of their deliberations?

    • New_Londoner

      @Chris
      “I think ofcom should concentrate on squaring up BT and not picking on other providers. Although it is good to know our regulator is keeping an eye on everything…”

      Ofcom is rightly tasked with regulating the industry, so cover all service providers and network operators, even including B4RN.

    • Guy Cashmore

      @ New_Londoner

      Yes, we lost on the basis that BT isn’t legally obliged to provide any minimum standard of broadband provision. They do keep patching up the voice service cable, almost weekly in winter.

    • FibreBubble

      “I think ofcom should concentrate on squaring up BT and not picking on other providers. ”

      Interesting comment from B4RN’s professional Fibre To Forum Spokesperson.

  2. Fastman

    hhmmm

    think ofcom should concentrate on squaring up BT and not picking on other providers.

    Our investigation concluded that Vonage had broken our rules, which require communications providers to maintain uninterrupted access to the emergency services

    Regulators are there to project all consumers regardless of who their operator of

  3. Web Dude

    “maintain uninterrupted access to the emergency services”

    I thought only landlines are expected to guarantee this… it’s clear that from time to time a mobile network may go down, and at least in the past, VoIP didn’t seem to ‘guarantee’ access to emergency services.

    Of course, I’m probably wrong, not being a Vonage user but does it have some additional service ‘expectation’ applied by Ofcom, which some service like Skype does not carry ? (I don’t use ANY VoIP service for outgoing calls at present).

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