Telekomunikacja Polska S.A. has been fined for switching off a telephone exchange operating calls to emergency services. On 3 July 2007, the President of the Office of Electronic Communications issued a decision imposing 2 million PLN penalty on TP S.A. for its failure to fulfil an obligation to provide its end users with free of charge calls to emergency numbers.
Each provider of publicly available telephone services shall provide its end users, including those using public pay phones, with free of charge calls to emergency numbers (112, 999, 998, 997) and shall ensure the routing of calls to emergency numbers of statutory emergency services relevant for a given area.
From 26 March 2007 11:47 pm until 27 March 3:00 am, an external company was upgrading a software system of a telephone exchange in Białystok to which emergency services are connected (the Fire Brigade and the Ambulance Service). During the software installation a breakdown occurred, which made it necessary to restart the telephone exchange manually. As a result, on 27 March from 0:40 am until 2:22 am, a break in the operation of all calls (including emergency calls) took place (100 minutes).
Supplementary communications was not provided for the time of an upgrade and restarting, although TP S.A. anticipated a break in the operation of a telephone exchange. An inspection of UKE that followed indicated that TP S.A. in Białystok did not have any procedures for handling anticipated breaks in communications in order to provide end users with calls to emergency numbers during maintenance works.
According to the information from TP S.A., the Ambulance Service (999) and the Fire Brigade Service (998) were connected to a telephone exchange in Białystok. In addition, the Fire Brigade operated the “112” emergency number for fixed-line subscribers within this area.
Switching off the telephone exchange deprived 131 522 subscribers of access to the above mentioned services within the area of Białystok, and a further 40 985 subscribers connected to the network via this telephone exchange had no access to any of the emergency services. This put human health and life in a serious risk.
At the same time after midnight farm buildings in the village of Rumejki in the vicinity of Bialystok were on fire. However, as a telephone exchange was switched off by TP S.A., village dwellers were not able to call emergency numbers for 1.5 hours. Late arrival of the fire brigade caused that containers with petrol and oil kept in one of the buildings exploded. As a result 5 people were burnt, including 2 firemen. People with the most serious injuries were taken to hospital. 41 firemen were involved in extinguishing the fire. The fire was extinguished as late as at 5 o’clock in the morning.
A break in the availability of calls to the Fire Brigade deprived TP S.A.’s end users of the possibility to contact emergency services.
Due to the above-mentioned considerations the President of UKE found that the facts of the case justified the application of the provisions of Article 209 (1) (18) of the Telecommunications Law by virtue of which the provider of publicly available telecommunications services who does not fulfil the obligation to provide free of charge calls to emergency numbers shall be liable to a financial penalty.