Telcos, ACCAN support text messages to Triple Zero

Revamp of the emergency phone line urged in submissions to Department of Communications

It’s time for the Triple Zero emergency phone number to accept more than voice calls, according to industry and consumer advocates who made submissions to the review of the national Triple Zero (000) operator.

The Department of Communications is reviewing the national Triple Zero operator with the goal of bringing it up to date with modern communications technology and moving it beyond the existing voice-only service.

The federal government established the Triple Zero service in 1961. In 2012, the government signed Telstra to continue as the Triple Zero operator for up to 20 years, subject to a competitive tender to be issued by 23 June 2016. The current review is meant to inform the tender process.

Consumer and disability organisations are “concerned that for some Australians with a disability it is difficult or sometimes not possible to contact triple zero 000 while they are out and about,” said the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN).

While deaf, hearing- or speech-impaired Australians can requests emergency assistance using SMS through the National Relay Service, it is not recommended as a reliable stand-alone method for requesting emergency assistance, ACCAN said.

“ACCAN is also concerned that the current voice-only service is not capable of handling requests in those situations when it is not safe for the caller to make a voice call. Situations such as domestic violence, home invasions or hostage situations; emergency situations where making a voice call for assistance would further endanger the caller.

“Additionally, there are other circumstances when making voice calls to triple zero is not possible, such as in areas where there is limited mobile coverage and voice calls are not possible but an SMS request could be supported by the limited network coverage.”

The regulatory framework for Triple Zero was built for voice services and must be overhauled to accommodate new technology, said the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA).

“Current examples include ‘VoIP out only’ services that are not required to supply access to Triple Zero, as the service does not meet the [standard telephone service] definition; and the inability to accommodate SMS, despite a requirement for text access from the hearing impaired community.

“In addition, customer equipment and associated software applications (apps) are not included in the regulation of emergency communication services,” the wireless industry association said.

Telstra, the current Triple Zero operator, agreed that the emergency service should be modernised, but advocated a cautious approach to change.

“Telstra believes it is important that regulation remains relevant and appropriate to support the ongoing operation and development of the service in a rapidly changing social and technological environment. However, any proposed reforms must be thoroughly analysed and tested to ensure that they meet a demonstrated need and are the best approach to meeting this need.”

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of dystopian sci-fi novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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