The regulator’s General Condition 3.1 (GC3.1) rule requires communication providers to “take all necessary measures to maintain, to the greatest extent possible (a) the proper and effective functioning of the public communications network at all times (b) in the event of catastrophic network breakdown or in cases of force majeure the fullest availability of the public communications network and telephone services and (c) uninterrupted access to emergency organisations for their end-users.”
On top of that Section 105A(4) of the Communications Act 2003 requires CPs to take all appropriate steps to protect, “so far as possible,” the availability of the provider’s public electronic communications network. Unfortunately Vonage’s move in January 2018 to implement “technical changes” to the way calls were routed on its network ended up briefly disrupting access to the emergency services.
In the end Ofcom blamed this on a “failure to complete emergency call testing,” which would have identified the problem.
Vonage has since made changes to its network and testing processes to minimise the risk of a similar incident occurring in future. The outcome helps to highlight the growing importance of Voice-over-IP (VoIP) service stability, which is becoming more essential as UK broadband ISP users increasingly switch away from traditional phone line services.Ofcom wrote:
Although the company carried out testing to ensure that regular calls were still being connected during the transition, it failed to test the emergency call numbers, 999 and 112, as part of this process. Vonage therefore failed to identify that emergency calls were not connecting successfully following the routing changes it had made.
Our investigation concluded that Vonage had broken our rules, which require communications providers to maintain uninterrupted access to the emergency services.
We have imposed a penalty of £24,500 on the company. This figure includes a 30% discount as a result of Vonage admitting liability and agreeing to settle the case. The penalty will be paid to HM Paymaster General.
Both Three UK and KCOM were last year also hit with fines (here and here) after network problems, such as a major outage, meant they were similarly unable to provide some or all of their customers with access to the emergency services.
By Mark Jackson
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