NZ ComCom consulting on calling 111 during power outages on fibre

The code will force telcos to have measures in place to protect customers who are at particular risk of being unable to contact emergency services.

The New Zealand Commerce Commission (ComCom) on Wednesday opened an online consultation about the nation's home phone networks, seeking feedback for the development of a code that protects customers who are at particular risk of being unable to contact emergency services. 

The consultation was opened in response to New Zealanders increasingly making the shift to fibre and fixed wireless home phone networks. ComCom said as fibre and fixed wireless networking technologies require a power supply, this has meant customers who only have access to a home phone may not be able to contact emergency services during power outages. 

To address this shift, New Zealand's telecommunications laws were amended in November 2018, requiring ComCom to create a code that supports these types of customers. 

A draft version of the code, called the 111 contact code, has already been made, but the regulatory authority is looking for consultations specifically from the New Zealand Police, Fire and Emergency New Zealand, the director of Civil Defence Emergency Management, and every provider of an initial call answering point for the 111 emergency service.

"We encourage feedback, especially from consumer advocacy groups on the criteria and application process. We are also interested in feedback on what solutions telecommunications providers could use to supply their qualifying customers. We will use this feedback to shape the Code so the final version works for everyone who needs it," said telecommunications commissioner Stephen Gale.

The draft version of the 111 contact rules, if passed in its current form, would require telcos to supply vulnerable customers with an alternative way to contact 111 at no cost.

"It's proposed that the customer applies to their provider if they are at particular risk of needing to call 111, such as if they have a medical condition. If the consumer qualifies, their provider will work with them to determine the right product for their particular needs," Gale said.

"We have included protections to ensure providers cannot deny or stop supplying home phone services to customers because they are or will be covered by the Code. Customers will also have the ability to complain to the Telecommunications Disputes Resolution Service or directly to the Commerce Commission if their provider does not comply with the Code." 

More broadly, the ComCom is also proposing as part of the code that telcos tell all of their customers who are moving to, or are already on new home phone networks, that their home phone may not work in a power outage, how to protect themselves, and where to go for further support.

ComCom will be accepting online consultations until 23 April 2020, with the regulatory authority saying the final code is expected to be finalised and published in mid-2020. 

As more New Zealand customers move to newer networking technologies, the New Zealand government has been making preparations to build 5G networks by opening up access to the unused half of the country's 3.5GHz band -- 5G spectrum -- via an auction, which is set to take place sometime this year. 

Winners at the auction, where 160MHz of spectrum will be open for bidding, will gain rights to the purchased spectrum from mid-2020 until 31 October 2022, before it switches across to long-term rights that will be gained via another auction.

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