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One NZ faces legal action by the Commerce Commission for allegedly breaching 111 obligations

Technology / news
One NZ faces legal action by the Commerce Commission for allegedly breaching 111 obligations

One New Zealand could face another court appearance after the Commerce Commission took legal action against New Zealand's second-largest telco for allegedly breaching the 111 emergency calling Contact Code.

The Code came into effect in 2021, and it was put into place to ensure customers moving away from copper landlines to other technologies such as fibre and fixed-wireless access that require power on the premises, are able to call emergency services during power cuts to their homes, at no cost to them.

This could comprise a mobile handset, or battery backup for vulnerable customers, to ensure they can call 111.

Telecommunications Commissioner Tristan Gilbertson issued a strongly worded statement on the matter, alleging the 111 service obligation breaches are ongoing. 

Gilbertson said there is "widespread compliance across the rest of the industry" which made One NZ's failure to inform and protect its customers a serious concern, particularly since the telco has the second largest number of landline connections in the country.

One NZ said it has around 100,000 residential landline customers currently, and 120 who have registered as vulnerable under the 111 Code.

“It’s critical that all telecommunications providers comply with the Code to ensure the safety of their customers whose lives may be at risk in a power cut. The onus is on them to ensure their customers know how they can protect themselves and where to go for further support," says Gilbertson.

“Just one breach could have devastating consequences – so it’s encouraging to see most other providers respecting the importance of the Code and doing the right thing by their customers,” he says.

For its part, One NZ said it was disappointed to learn about the legal action, but admitted there were gaps in ensuring vulnerable customers had landline 111 access.

The telco said it had missed the deadline to contact an unspecified number of vulnerable customers within 12 months. Furthermore, One NZ had missed ensuring certain annual communications went to all landline customers about the 111 Code. However, it maintained that information was shared with customers via its website, as part of its sales process, and welcome emails.

One NZ also said it has complied with the key requirement to provide vulnerable customers with a mobile phone, or battery backup. The telco said it is not aware of any customers being impacted or harmed by its 111 Code breaches.

Gilbertson singled out One NZ as "the worst offender" under the Fair Trading Act since 2010. The telco has been prosecuted six times under the Act. As recently as 2022, the telco that was known as Vodafone NZ at the time, received a record $2.5 million penalty for a misleading FibreX service marketing campaign. 

Even though the fine was a record high, the Commission appealed the District Court judgment, saying the penalty didn't reflect the seriousness of the offending. The Commission had sought a $5.8 million fine.

If One NZ is found guilty of breaching the 111 Contact Code, it faces penalties of up to $300,000 for each instance of non-compliance, and $10,000 a day for continuing conduct.

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The proof is in the pudding, we'll wait and see what the outcome is.