The Federal Court of Australia has ordered TPG Internet Pty Ltd (TPG Internet) to pay penalties in the sum of $400,000 for contraventions of the Telecommunications (Emergency Call Service) Determination 2009. The Determination imposes requirements on telecommunications providers to give customers and other end-users access to the Triple Zero emergency call service.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority instituted proceedings against TPG Internet in the Federal Court in November 2012 claiming that the telecommunications provider had contravened the Determination by failing to ensure that its controlled network and/or controlled facilities gave the end-users of 5,979 home telephone services access to the Triple Zero emergency call service; and by failing to connect 193 calls made to the Triple Zero emergency call service on 100 of those home telephone services.
As part of the proceedings, the ACMA sought an order from the Federal Court under section 570 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 that TPG Internet pay to the Commonwealth pecuniary penalties for the contraventions of the Determination.
In finding that TPG Internet had contravened the Determination, His Honour Justice Bromberg of the Federal Court noted that, ‘The lack of immediate access to the emergency call service in the event of an emergency can have very serious consequences. Apart from the increased anxiety and stress involved for those seeking access, TPG’s failure could easily have led to the death of a person who might otherwise have been saved…’
‘This is the first time that the ACMA has instituted proceedings against a telecommunications provider for contraventions of the Determination. This decision is a reminder for all providers that the obligation to give Triple Zero access is of paramount importance,’ said ACMA Chairman, Chris Chapman.
‘All Australians need to be assured that any call they make to the Triple Zero emergency call service will be connected.’
The proceedings followed an investigation by the ACMA into a complaint regarding a failure to connect a call made to the Triple Zero emergency call service on a home telephone service supplied by TPG Internet. The call was made in circumstances where an individual required urgent medical attention.
During the course of the investigation, TPG Internet advised that as a result of an error in a software upgrade to its systems, during the period of 15 March 2011 to 21 September 2011, the end-users of 5,979 home telephone services, whose customers had failed to maintain an appropriate credit balance, did not have access to the Triple Zero emergency call service until the credit balance was restored.
Telephone records provided by TPG Internet indicated that, during the relevant period, 193 calls were made to Triple Zero on 100 of those home telephone services and none was connected.
TPG Internet became aware of the error in its system upgrade on 20 September 2011 when it was advised that a customer was unable to access the Triple Zero emergency call service. The correction was progressively rolled out on the same day.
TPG Internet admitted that it had contravened one of the provisions of the Determination by failing to ensure that its controlled networks and/or controlled facilities gave the end-users of the 5,979 home telephone services access to the Triple Zero emergency call service. TPG Internet did not admit that it had contravened another provision of the Determination which applies when a provider “supplies” a standard telephone service on which a call is made to Triple Zero. TPG Internet argued that the provision had no application in relation to the 193 calls made to Triple Zero on the 100 home telephone services because it was not supplying standard telephone services to the customers of those home telephone services at the times the calls were made.