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KCOM fined over emergency call service failure

Telco KCOM fined after 999 calls made by Hull residents went unanswered due to flooding at a BT exchange miles away

KCOM, the incumbent communications service provider (CSP) in Hull and East Yorkshire, has been fined £900,000 by Ofcom after the regulator uncovered a serious weakness in its emergency call service.

On 28 December 2015, KCOM notified Ofcom that the emergency call service in Hull failed for two hours due to flooding caused a few days earlier by Storm Eva at a BT telephone exchange in York, approximately 40 miles away.

Virtually all UK CSPs rely on BT exchanges for emergency services calls to interconnect and deliver emergency calls to operator assistance centres – the point at which a caller is asked which service they want – before being redirected to the appropriate local emergency communications centre.

As a result of the existence of a single point of failure in KCOM’s emergency call routing, 74 attempted calls to 999 or 112 from 34 different numbers across its installed base of more than 187,000 lines were not connected.

This is in breach of rules laid down by Ofcom that requires emergency call services to be resilient and able to connect at all times, and CSPs must be able to show that there are no avoidable single points of failure in the system.

Although KCOM did have backup routes to alternative BT exchanges in Leeds and Sheffield, it later emerged that these also passed through the York exchange and so failed as well.

In the event, KCOM worked quickly to create an alternative route to bypass the BT exchange, which was up and running within two hours of the problem emerging.

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Nevertheless, Ofcom said the breach and its potential impact on public health and safety was sufficiently serious to fine the operator.

“Ofcom rules mean people must be able to call the emergency services around the clock,” said Ofcom enforcement and investigations director Gaucho Rasmussen.

“Any failure to connect 999 calls is extremely serious. This fine serves as a clear warning to the telecoms industry that it must prioritise access to the emergency services, no matter what the circumstances.”

KCOM’s fine comes two months after mobile operator Three received a £1.9m fine for a similar breach that affected customers in Hampshire, Kent and parts of London.

In this case, a broken fibre cable meant that Three’s backup routes were out of action, and all traffic had to go through a single datacentre, again representing a single point of failure, although in this case there were no incomplete 999 calls.

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