KCOM whacked with £900k Ofcom fine over 999 call handling

Flooded York exchange proved to be a major weak spot

Telecommunications biz KCOM has been hit with a £900,000 fine from regulator Ofcom after the uncovering of a serious weakness in the company's emergency-call service.

Unlike most parts of the UK, where BT is the monopoly provider, KCOM operates the main telephone and broadband network in Kingston upon Hull.

But an investigation by Ofcom found the business broke a rule crucial to public health and safety by failing to ensure everyone can contact the emergency services at all times.

On 28 December 2015, KCOM notified Ofcom that its emergency-call service for the Hull area had failed for around four hours. KCOM attributed this to flooding at one of BT's telephone exchanges in York following Storm Eva.

As a result, 74 attempted calls to 999 or 112 from 34 different numbers failed to connect during this period.

Ofcom's investigation found that all emergency calls from customers in the Hull area relied on the flooded telephone exchange, which was a single point of failure in KCOM's emergency-call routing. To meet Ofcom rules, KCOM should have been able automatically to divert emergency calls via backup routes.

KCOM did have backup routes in place, but they also relied on the York exchange. To resolve the incident and address the weakness in its emergency-call routing, KCOM created an alternative route to carry traffic that bypassed the flooded exchange within two hours of identifying the problem.

Gaucho Rasmussen, Ofcom's enforcement and investigations director, said: "Any failure to connect 999 calls is extremely serious. Today's 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 pales in comparison to £1.9m Three was forced to pay after it was discovered in October 2016 that the mobile operator funnelled its entire emergency call service through one data centre. Having a single point of failure for 999 requests was in breach of Ofcom requirements.

A KCOM spokeswoman said the firm recognises the critical importance of providing our customers with uninterrupted access to emergency call services takes that responsibility "extremely seriously."

She said: "During Storm Eva in 2015, the loss of our 999 service was a result of a single point of failure in another operator’s exchange in York. Our emergency call services are managed through long-standing external outsourcing arrangements. In establishing them, we sought to ensure diverse and resilient routing, which Ofcom has acknowledged in its findings.

"We’re very sorry this happened and immediately after the incident we ensured steps were taken to remove this network vulnerability. Customers trust that our service will be available in an emergency – and so they should.” ®

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