SingTel fined a record $6m for Bukit Panjang exchange fire; OpenNet and CityNet also fined

SingTel has been fined $6 million, the largest ever for a telco, for the Oct 9 blaze at its Bukit Panjang Internet exchange last year.

National fibre broadband network builder OpenNet and CityNet - the trustee manager of a Singtel unit that owns Opennet - have also been fined $200,000 and $300,000, respectively, for failing to comply with safety procedures and restore services promptly.

The hour-long fire that crippled essential services from banking to health records retrieval across Singapore was caused by the use of an unauthorized blowtorch by a SingTel staff when performing maintenance works. It sparked a slow-burning fire that went undetected as a result of further fire safety lapses and human error.

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Recent telco fines

Date Telco(s) Fine Reason(s) for fine
May 2014 SingTel $6 million(IDA) -A fire that crippled essential services from banking to health records retrieval across Singapore in Oct 2013. Close to 270,000 subscribers were affected.
Jan 2014 M1 $25,000(IDA) -Failure to meet 99 per cent mobile network coverage required during 2nd and 3rd quarters of 2013 except in August.
Oct 2013 M1 $1.5 million(IDA) -3G and 2G service outages in Jan 2013 that lasted up to 71 hours and affected some 250,000 users.
Dec 2012 SingTel, StarHub, M1 $10,000 each(IDA) -Failure to meet 99 per cent 3G mobile network coverage required in Sept 2012.
Sept 2012 SingTel $380,000(IDA & MDA) -Breakdown of fibre broadband system on Oct 28, 29 and 30, and Nov 4 in 2011 that disrupted voice and pay-TV services. 
May 2012 SingTel $400,000(IDA) -3G network breakdown that left mobile phone customers unable to make calls, access data and send and receive text messages for 22 hours in Sept 2011. 
Nov 2011 M1 $300,000(IDA) -Mobile network breakdown that disrupted the voice, messaging and data services of mobile phone users for 14 hours in May 2011.

Table: Irene Tham and Lin Zhaowei

Concurring with some of the initial findings of SingTel's board committee of inquiry that concluded in December last year, the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) said on late Tuesday evening that "SingTel did not have specific contingency plans to address serious outage situations of such a scale as the incident".

The IDA said there were weaknesses in the telco's cable maintenance system, which used lead sealant to protect the exit points for cables. This sealant needed to be heated and shrunk each time the cables need to be maintained. 

Mr Leong Keng Thai, IDA’s Deputy Chief Executive and Director-General (Telecoms and Post), said, “This is a very serious service outage of a magnitude that is unprecedented, but more importantly, that could have been avoided."

"With increasing dependency of businesses and consumers on telecommunications, a strong signal must be sent to telecommunication operators that they must take network resilience very seriously, and invest in necessary infrastructure, processes and training to prevent and minimise service outages. IDA will closely monitor the operators’ undertaking of the corrective measures and ensure that they are implemented,” he added

Of the cables damaged, two-thirds belonged to OpenNet. IDA said the disruption affected close to 270,000 subscribers including residential users, Government agencies and businesses.

The fine imposed on CityNet was for not ensuring safety procedures were followed as it is the legal owner of the Bukit Panjang exchange.

The fine on OpenNet was for the "unnecessarily prolonged" restoration of services to broadband users.

Home fibre broadband users including those of SingTel, StarHub and M1 were also cut off from the Internet, as the fire damaged national fibre broadband network builder OpenNet's cables housed in the same premises. OpenNet sells fibre links wholesale to broadband providers.

Some StarHub cable broadband users were cut off too as it leases backend fibre links from SingTel for delivering its cable TV and broadband services.

It took more than a week to fully restore broadband services for some home users, although all affected business customers had their connections restored after two days when the damaged cables were repaired.