The UK’s telecommunications regulator, Ofcom, is investigating BT after an extensive outage of the 999 emergency call service. Due to a technical problem that occurred on Sunday, the availability of the critical 999 service was compromised nationally, prompting BT to shift to a back-up system.
However, reports from London’s Metropolitan Police suggested that this back-up system was less efficient in offering location data, further complicating the identification of emergency locations. Subsequently, the public was advised to only use the service in critical emergencies. The severity of the situation was further evidenced by the advice given by various public safety institutions across the country, where they encouraged citizens to use the non-life-threatening emergency number, 111.
The mentioned outage was subsequently discussed in Parliament, where technology minister Lord Camrose highlighted that it took almost three hours for BT to inform the government of the problem, from the time the error occurred.
An apology from BT was offered in response to the issues caused. However, that did not prevent Ofcom from embarking on an investigation into potential regulation breaches. As per a statement made by the watchdog, telecom companies must ensure constant access to emergency organisations as a part of any call services offered. The regulations also stress on the providers’ responsibility to maintain the maximum possible availability of calls and internet in events of severe network failure, or in cases of unavoidable circumstances.
Additionally, the regulators also require telecom companies to take suitable measures to mitigate the risks associated with the functioning of their networks. Implementing systems that can effectively counteract complications arising from such adversities is obligatorily inscribed within Ofcom’s provisions.
In Ofcom’s words, “Our investigation will look to establish the facts surrounding the incident and ascertain whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that BT has not complied with its regulatory obligations.” However, the potential repercussions BT could face were not elaborated on by Ofcom.
Yet, it is widely known that Ofcom holds the power to enforce penalties for regulation breaches. The cost of such penalties is determined by considering various aspects such as the size and revenue of the telecommunication firm, the duration and seriousness of the violation, the harm caused, and the preventive measures in place.
Meanwhile, BT has announced that it is almost through with its “full, internal investigation.” The conclusion expected to be shared with the government, Ofcom, and emergency services will scrutinise the technical causes of the incident, the process engaged in switching to the back-up system, and the communication timings with emergency services, Ofcom and the government.