Ofcom extends 999/112 investigation by another six months

Ofcom announced yesterday that it was extending for another six months its ‘own-initiative’ investigation into whether communications providers were complying with their obligations under General Condition 4 to provide end-users with the ability to call emergency services and provide location information. This investigation has historically particularly focused on VoIP providers.

In December 2007, Ofcom proposed changes to General Condition 4, which were implemented by means of a modification to General Condition 4 which took effect from 8 September 2008.

Prior to the change, General Condition 4 had required providers of ‘Publicly Available Telephony Services’ (“PATS“) to ensure that any end-user could access emergency services by calling 999 and 112 at no charge and, to the extent technically feasible, make caller location information available to the emergency organisations handling those calls.

This obligation clearly applied to traditional PSTN operators, but due to a circular definition of PATS, which can be traced back to original faulty drafting in the underlying European Regulatory Framework, the obligation to provide access to emergency services (plus various other obligations which attached to PATS, but not to those providing only public electronic communications services) could be avoided by – blocking access to emergency services. This regulatory quirk had led to customer confusion and created a perverse regulatory incentive to block access to emergency services.

The 2008 change to General Condition 4, instead imposed two distinct obligations on two classes of Communications Providers:

  1. those providing a public electronic communications service which enabled users to call numbers in the national numbering plan (including VoIP providers), but excluding ‘click to call’ services were obliged to ensure that their end-users could access emergency organisations by calling 999 and 112 at no charge; and
  2. those providing a public telephone network (being a network used to provider PATS) were obliged, to the extent technically feasible, to make caller location information available to the emergency organisations receiving the calls.

Following the change to the General Condition, Ofcom opened an industry wide compliance investigation, and its announcement yesterday extended that for another six months. It would appear that there are no significant challenges at the moment, but this investigation will no doubt gain fresh legs in light of the proposed changes to the General Conditions currently being consulted on – in particular the requirement for emergency SMS.