BT Investigated By Ofcom Over 999 Failure

BT Group is facing an official investigation by the UK communications regulator Ofcom over a nation-wide disruption to emergency call services on Sunday 25 June 2023.

The investigation was announced by Ofcom on Wednesday is a consequence of the extremely serious nature of the fault for the emergency services.

Ofcom has fined carriers and operators heavily in previous years when a fault with the 999 service was detected on their networks.

999 disruption

The Ofcom announcement comes after police forces in the UK had recently urged Android smartphone users to consider turning off a feature that automatically dials 999.

It come after a recent Android update was thought to be behind a sharp increase in “silent calls” to 999.

A similar iPhone and Apple Watch feature designed to phone emergency services in the event of a car crash recently launched a wave of false-alarm emergency calls from ski slopes and roller coasters.

But Ofcom has now announced that after the 999 failure on Sunday, it is investigating “BT’s compliance with General Condition A3.2 (GC A3.2) and sections 105A and 105C of the Communications Act 2003. The investigation follows BT’s notification of a technical fault which resulted in a UK-wide disruption to emergency call services on 25 June 2023.”

Ofcom pointed out that 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.

Ofcom’s 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.

Lives at risk

Rehan Ali, Uswitch telecoms expert, cautioned that the severity of this Ofcom investigation cannot be overestimated, due to the fact that people’s lives were potentially impacted.

“Lives are at risk with emergency service calls – and customers need to know they can reliably use their phone to get through to emergency help when it’s needed,” said Uswitch’s Ali.

“BT’s decision to share its own internal investigation findings publicly is the right one to help rebuild trust in the systems that we all rely on to keep people safe.”

“If faults have occurred, they must be addressed with the utmost urgency,” said Ali.

Previous fines

Ofcom has previously slapped mobile operators and carriers with hefty fines over 999 failures.

In June 2017 Three was fined £1.9 million after it failed to ensure customers could contact emergency services due to a weakness in its network handles calls to 999.

Then in August that same year, Hull-based telecoms operator KCOM was fined £900,000 after a “serious weakness” in how its network handles emergency calls led to 74 failed attempts to dial 999 or 112.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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