01 Jul 2010
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Govt: Telecom outages undermine 111 confidence

The Minister for Communications and Information Technology, Steven Joyce, says Telecom’s recent outages have undermined New Zealanders’ confidence in their emergency calling system. He wants greater accountability, and Telecom is promising improvements. In a letter to Telecom Chief Executive Paul Reynolds, Joyce laid out the government’s concerns about the 111 emergency calling system and said it was urgent that Telecom worked with the government in developing an agreement that set out the roles for Telecom, the government and other key industry players. After watching the 111 system fall over on his watch more than once, Joyce now wants an agreement that includes a management plan for 111 facilities and a set of performance measures for situations when 111 doesn’t perform. Regular, independent audits that would monitor Telecom’s compliance have also been suggested. “The telecommunications industry structure has evolved quickly in recent times and while Telecom remains the core infrastructural player, there is a need for 111 governance arrangements that reflect the evolving shape of the industry,” said Joyce. “I will be working closely with the industry to ensure these arrangements are made.”David Stone, CEO of the Telecommunications Carriers Forum, told TR that the issues of old technology coupled with the expense of upgrading would be high on the government’s agenda. “For a while there we had a gold plated system, but over the years it’s become less so, as the nature of the industry has changed,” he said. “Part of the problem is that more than 60% of 111 calls come from mobile phones. That automatically removes the ability of being able to pinpoint the location of the call origin, which you could do when you had a fixed line location.” Stone continued: “If you’re going to try and mandate a similar level of certainty over the location of a mobile call, then that represents some real ground-breaking technology and huge expenditure by telcos.” The Communications Minister also said that the public was losing confidence in the system. “It is essential that New Zealanders have confidence in their emergency calling system and the recent spate of ongoing outages has been undermining that confidence,” said Joyce. In a swift response, Telecom Group Chief Technology Officer, David Havercroft, stepped up to say that work was already under way. He also said that whole process of the emergency calling system had not been reviewed for some time.“Telecom’s 111 call centres answer over two million calls every year. While TSO obligations require Telecom to answer 85% of all 111 calls within 15 seconds, in practice 95% of all calls are answered within five seconds,” he said. Havercroft also addressed the minister’s concern of decreasing confidence in the service: “New Zealanders should be confident that 111 is an extremely reliable service, and that Telecom is committed to ensuring the best systems, processes and management are in place to ensure the service continues to meet the very high standards set for it.” Telecom’s newly-created Head of 111 Infrastructure & Operations role was recently filled by Charles Jarvie, whom Havercroft said will take full responsibility for integrating all of the work into a comprehensive project reviewing all aspects of the operation and management of those parts of the 111 system that Telecom delivers, including the response to events affecting 111 service. Stone concluded: “We’re happy to work with them, to work out what it is that they want, and then try and work out how that can be best delivered. But it’s unlikely to be best delivered by heavy-handed regulations.”

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