Ofcom probes BT over 999 glitch

UK telco watchdog Ofcom has launched an investigation into BT following a widespread outage of the 999 emergency call service.

A technical fault on Sunday affected 999’s availability nationwide, forcing BT, which handles and routes the calls, to temporarily switch to a back-up system.

However, as pointed out at the time by London’s Metropolitan Police, the back-up system was not as effective at providing location data, making it harder to pinpoint where emergencies were occurring. It also reminded the public to only call in a genuine emergency.

A list compiled by Sky News of police, fire and ambulance services up and down the country revealed that some of them were advising the public to call the non-life-threatening emergency number, 111, and go from there.

The outage was raised in Parliament, according to a BBC report on Tuesday, during which technology minister Lord Camrose noted that it took nearly three hours from when the fault occurred to BT notifying the government of the problem.

BT apologised for the issues.

Following the outage, Ofcom has opened an investigation to look for potential rule breaches.

The watchdog said in a statement on Wednesday that telcos including BT are required to take “take all necessary measures to ensure uninterrupted access to emergency organisations as part of any call services offered.”

Its rules also “require providers to take all necessary measures to ensure the fullest possible availability of calls and Internet in the event of catastrophic network breakdown or in cases of force majeure.”

Ofcom regulations also stipulate that telcos must take “appropriate and proportionate measures to identify and reduce the risks of, and prepare for the occurrence of, anything that compromises the availability, performance or functionality of their network or service,” and must also implement systems to prevent any adverse effects arising from any such compromise.

“Our 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 said.

Ofcom didn’t mention any potential consequences BT may incur if any breaches are confirmed.

It does have the power to impose penalties for rule-breaking though. Several factors determine the size of said penalties, including a telco’s size and revenue; the seriousness and duration of the violation; the degree of harm it caused; whether appropriate safeguards were in place to prevent it; and whether appropriate steps were taken to end it, and so-on.

BT said in a separate BBC report that it has nearly completed a “full, internal investigation,” the results of which are due to be shared with the government, Ofcom and emergency services on Thursday.

“This will examine the technical aspects of what triggered Sunday’s incident, the process of moving over to the back-up system and the timings of communications to the emergency services, Ofcom and government,” BT said.


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