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Minister threatens regulation over 111 calls

23 Feb 2010

The government may introduce regulation forcing telcos to ensure New Zealanders can connect to 111 emergency services from their cellphones even when networks are unstable.

ICT Minister Steven Joyce has issued a press release this evening claiming 111 calls must get through. He was responding to statements made by CEO Paul Reynolds at a media conference regarding a 111 call that failed to get through because of the fourth outage on the XT Network last night. Reynolds says that all mobile phones are programmed to instantly roam onto another network for 111 calls (it’s known as the SOS mode). But because only the voice service on XT was down – some data and SMS services were still working – the call failed to switch to Vodafone’s network when a man dialled 111 from his XT phone to alert police that a woman was being attacked.

Reynolds says he is aware of the incident but in that particular case other people also alerted police to the alleged crime taking place.

This isn’t good enough for Joyce, who says the government may need to regulate to ensure operators prioritise 111 calls in situations where networks become unstable. Currently, Telecom is obligedunder the Telecommunications Services Obligation (TSO) to provide emergency calling on its fixed network. However, mobile phones are not covered by the TSO, the statement says.

“The recent spate of outages on the XT network has exposed some shortcomings in this area and officials have been working urgently with Telecom since last evening to address these issues,” says Joyce.

“I’ve asked officials to look into this issue and I expect them to come back to me with a list of options in a short timeframe.”

In the statement Joyce also welcomed Telecom’s plans to compensate customers. “The reality though is that the thing their customers will most want is a stable network that they can rely on.  I reiterate the government’s concern over this ongoing issue.”

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