Court slaps TPG with $400k fine over 000 failure

Faulty code came to light after customer suffered a heart attack in 2011

TPG has been fined $400,000 after court action taken by the Australian Communications and Media Authority relating to the telco's failure to provide triple zero access to all of its customers.

The Federal Court ruled that on 193 occasions between 15 March 2011, and 21 September the same year TPG failed to give some of its customers access to the 000 and 112 emergency call service.

"During the period of 15 March 2011 to 21 September 2011, TPG failed to ensure that its controlled networks and/or controlled facilities gave the end users 5979 standard telephone services supplied by TPG access to emergency call services," Justice Bromberg found.

The rulings related to a prepaid TPG home phone service. If customers didn't top up their account, their ability to make phone calls using the service was suspended. Calls to emergency services were intended to always be connected.

However, the court found that after TPG upgraded its systems in March 2011 to cope with the popularity of the VOIP-based service, an "oversight" by a voice network engineer meant that all calls from services with insufficient credit would be blocked, including calls to emergency services.

TPG discovered the fault in September 2011 after a customer suffered a heart attack and his partner was unable to connect to 000. The telco rolled out a fix to the issue that day. The man subsequently died several days later.

In the time period affected by the fault, some 193 calls were made to emergency services by 100 TPG phone services that had been suspended; none of the calls were connected.

"TPG had an obligation to implement appropriate policies to ensure that programming or other errors which denied access to the emergency call service did not occur and its conduct cannot be explained away as merely a 'process failure'," Justice Bromberg stated in his ruling.

The telco "had a lax approach to compliance with important regulations".

ACMA chairperson Chris Chapman said that it was the first time the watchdog had brought action against a telco for breaching Telecommunications (Emergency Call Service) Determination 2009, which mandates that telcos provide access to the 000 emergency services.

"All Australians need to be assured that any call they make to the Triple Zero emergency call service will be connected," Chapman said in a statement.

TPG acknowledged that it had contravened section 19 of the determination, but contested ACMA's claim that it had also breached section 13, as well as what penalties should be imposed for the breaches of section 13 and section 19.

The CEO of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, Teresa Corbin, described TPG's failure to provide universal access to 000 as "inexcusable".

"There are some serious lessons to be learnt from this case, as it is a matter of public safety," the ACCAN CEO said.

"Telcos have an obligation to ensure you can call 000 from your home phone, even if your service has been disconnected. There are only exceptions if there are technical issues beyond their control.

"You can call 000 from a mobile without any credit, or a payphone without any coins, so you should absolutely be able to call 000 from your home phone."

The ACMA took TPG to court over the 000 issue in November 2012.

TPG late last year was slapped with a heftier fine by a court: In December the High Court reinstated a $2 million penalty for misleading ads, the end result of a lengthy action brought by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

TPG has been approached for comment.

The telco has recently been in the spotlight for its move to build infrastructure that could compete with the National Broadband Network rollout. NBN Co this morning called for TPG and other infrastructure competitors to cross-subsidise the rollout of the NBN in rural areas when they cherry-pick high value customers in urban areas with fibre-to-the-basement.

Read more: ACMA warns Telco Service Holdings

Tags australian communications consumer action networkemergency servicesTPG InternetTPGACMAAustralian Communications and Media Authority

More about Australian Competition and Consumer CommissionTPG Telecom

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