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Ofcom UK Launches Investigation into BT’s Weekend 999 Failure

Wednesday, Jun 28th, 2023 (10:28 am) - Score 2,144
British police

As expected, Ofcom has today formally launched an investigation into telecoms giant BT, which follows the significant UK-wide disruption to emergency call services that occurred as a result of a fault on their 999 service during Sunday 25th June 2023.

The regulator’s existing General Conditions rules (i.e. General Condition A3.2 and sections 105A and 105C of the Communications Act 2003) require every communications provider to “ensure the fullest possible availability of public communications services at all times, including in the event of a disaster or catastrophic network failure, and uninterrupted access to emergency organisations.”

Naturally, any failure of such communications, particularly to the emergency services, is extremely serious and could result in a loss of life. But sadly, this is exactly what seemed to occur on Sunday morning (6:30am), and it probably didn’t help that BT appears to have taken just under 3 hours to inform the government of their problems. A back-up system did kick in, but it was not as effective.

At the time, a spokesperson for BT said: “The primary 999 service was restored on Sunday evening and we are no longer relying on the back-up system. We are monitoring the service, and we continue to work hard to determine the root cause and the impact this has had.”

Ofcom said their investigation will seek to establish the facts surrounding the incident and examine whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that BT has failed to comply with its regulatory obligations.

Ofcom’s Related Rules

GC A3.2 requires certain communications providers to take all necessary measures to ensure the fullest possible availability of voice and internet services provided over public electronic communications networks in the event of catastrophic network breakdown or in cases of force majeure, and uninterrupted access to emergency organisations as part of any voice services offered.

Section 105A requires providers of public electronic communications networks and services (providers) to take such measures as are appropriate and proportionate to identify and reduce the risks of, and prepare for the occurrence of, security compromises, including, anything that compromises the availability, performance or functionality of the network or service.

Section 105C requires providers to take such measures as are appropriate and proportionate to prevent adverse effects arising from a security compromise that has occurred. Where a security compromise has an adverse effect on the network or service, the provider must take such measures as are appropriate and proportionate to remedy or mitigate that effect.

The exact cause of the issue remains unknown and, since the 999 service is deemed to be part of the UK’s Critical National Infrastructure (CNI), then it has proven difficult to find – this prevents BT from sharing key technical details about how the system and its back-up actually work.

However, a failure of Sunday’s magnitude is something that seems likely to attract a strong response from Ofcom, which may include various recommendations for system/process changes and the potential for a significant financial penalty (fine).

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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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3 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Matt says:

    Wonder if this has anything to do with their 1571 failure over the same period too.

    1. Avatar photo unknownquantity says:

      It’s possible. The 1571 issue was a data centre failure – and won’t be fixed for a while, even if they’re implimenting a patch job. It wouldd make sense if the same datacenter was used to route emergency calls, but it’s two seperate systems so it’s hard to say. Especially with the CNI obligastions mentioned.

  2. Avatar photo Stephen Wakeman says:

    If BT had acted sooner in communicating the failure to the government, the various emergency services could have used the national warning text system to give instructions to people how to access services in the meantime.

    Instead, the services broken up regionally like Ambulance and Fire were communicating via social media alternative numbers. Absolutely pathetic and highly discriminatory since the biggest group accessing 999 at that time would have been the elderly, who tend not to use social media and whose first instinct in an emergency would be to dial 999 and not check their Twitter or Facebook accounts.

Comments are closed

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