When New Zealand’s 111 emergency service was introduced more than 60 years ago, all calls were made from traditional landlines using the copper lines network. Today, that has reduced to a small minority: three quarters of all 111 calls are made from mobile phones and many landline calls are made from phones that use newer fibre or fixed wireless network technologies.
The ultrafast broadband (UFB) rollout has already seen more than 62% of New Zealand urban homes replace their copper network connection with a modern fibre connection, while the Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI) is using wireless technologies to improve telecommunications services in many rural homes.
These new technologies need an electricity supply in the home to work, meaning that in the event of a power cut they will not operate. If there is a landline (home phone) associated with the fibre or fixed wireless service this will stop working. This means should a consumer need to contact the 111 emergency service during a power cut and are relying on a landline to do so, they will not be able to unless they have an appropriate battery back-up power supply.
The majority of New Zealanders own or have access to a mobile phone which provides an alternative means of contacting 111 emergency services, however it is important that the we ensure that our most vulnerable consumers can access 111 emergency services when the power fails.
The Government passed legislation in November 2018 for the Commerce Commission to develop a 111 Contact Code. The intent of the Code is to ensure that vulnerable consumers, or persons on their behalf, have reasonable access to an appropriate means to contact the 111 emergency service in the event of a power failure.
The 111 Contact Code was published in November 2020.
Summary of the Code
Retail Service Providers (RSP’s) are required to communicate to both new and existing consumers at least once a year outlining:
- that landline services running across new home technologies (such as fibre and fixed wireless) may not work in a power failure
- ways they can protect their household in the event of a power failure (this might include having available a mobile phone or having a battery back-up power supply)
- a process for consumers (or someone on their behalf) to apply to be accepted by the RSP as a vulnerable consumer
- RSP’s are required to start this communication from early 2021.
The Code sets out a definition of a vulnerable consumer being ‘a consumer of a retail landline service, who’:
- is at particular risk of requiring the 111 emergency service; and
- does not have a means for contacting the 111 emergency service that is not available to be operated for a period of eight hours, in the event of a power failure.
If a customer, or a person living with the customer, meets the definition of ‘vulnerable consumer’ RSP’s are required to supply an alternative means to contacting 111 emergency services in the event of a power cut,
- These alternatives are likely to be a mobile phone or in some circumstances a battery back-up device.
- RSP’s have until 1 Aug 2021 to confirm alternatives and have these measures in place.
It is worth noting that any mobile phone which has a SIM card will work for 111 calls, irrespective of whether it has a plan or any credit on it. Additionally, if the mobile phone user is out of the network coverage area for their service provider, but within the coverage area of another provider, 111 calls will still be put through to emergency services.
Eligibility and process
There must be a clear process available for consumers to apply to be accepted as a vulnerable consumer. RSP’s must have this process in place in early 2021.
The Code (section F2 pages 10, 13) sets out the criteria and process for a consumer to prove they are a vulnerable consumer.
Once the application has been received their RSP must inform the consumer within ten working days if their application has been accepted or declined. If accepted, the RSP will also inform the consumer when they can supply their alternative means to contact 111 emergency services and it will also include appropriate instructions for use, maintenance and installation.
Disputing a declined application and other complaints
If the consumer disagrees with any decision made by their retailer about their interpretation of the requirements of the Code they are able to take their dispute to the Telecommunications Dispute Resolution (TDR). TDR is a free and independent service which helps resolve disputes between customers and their telecommunications provider.
Copper Withdrawal Code
The Copper Withdrawal Code was published 10 Dec 2020. The Copper Withdrawal Code will allow Chorus to withdraw its copper-based telecommunications services in areas where fibre is available. Where fibre is not available, Chorus must continue to offer its copper services.
RSPs will need to be able to meet their obligations under the 111 Contact Code for vulnerable consumers before Chorus is able to stop the supply of copper service. There will be a number of other consumer protections in the Code that Chorus must meet before Copper can be withdrawn.
 Source: Commission 111 Contact Code: Decisions and Reasons Paper, 17 Nov 2020