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SingTel fined S$6m over Bukit Panjang Exchange fire

SingTel has been fined S$6 million for its role in the fire at the Bukit Panjang Exchange last year.

SINGAPORE: SingTel has been fined S$6 million for its role in the fire at the Bukit Panjang Exchange last year.

It is the largest fine meted out to a telco.

Separately, CityNet was fined S$300,000 while OpenNet was fined S$200,000.

The fire had led to service disruptions for close to 270,000 subscribers. Affected services were only fully restored on October 17, 2013.

The fire broke out at the facility on the afternoon of October 9 last year. The cause of the fire was the use of an unauthorised blowtorch during works by SingTel on its cables.

The fire lasted for 20 minutes and SingTel managed to divert traffic to two unaffected chambers -- but the damage was done.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) said that the three operators -- SingTel, CityNet and OpenNet -- had not "fulfilled their respective obligations, such as to provide sufficiently-resilient telecommunications systems and services, and to restore services to affected end users as quickly as possible" when the disruptions occurred.

In particular, IDA said the disruptions could have been prevented had SingTel enforced its standard operating procedures and work safety practices.

IDA also said SingTel did not have specific contingency plans to address serious service failures of such a scale as the Bukit Panjang incident.

The telco was also found to have breached obligations under the Code of Practice for Telecommunication Service Resiliency for the disruption.

In response, SingTel said it accepts IDA's findings and has taken steps to ensure similar incidents will not occur.

Its Group CEO Chua Sock Koong added that the telco has "made good progress" in the areas of fire prevention, network design and stakeholder engagement -- which include replacement of lead seals in the exchanges with multi-cable transit systems.

The replacement of lead seals is expected to be completed by July 2014, earlier than the previously announced time frame of end-2014.

SingTel is also installing automatic fire suppression systems within the cable chambers and expects to complete that by the end of this year, she said.

CityNet and OpenNet have also said they agree with IDA's findings, and commit to improvement measures.

Mr Leong Keng Thai, IDA's deputy chief executive, reiterated that the resultant outage was "of a magnitude that is unprecedented, but more importantly, that could have been avoided."

He also said that a strong signal must be sent to telcos that they "must take network resilience very seriously", and "invest in necessary infrastructure, processes and training to prevent and minimise service outages".

In completing investigations into the fire, IDA said that following the incident, the operators have conducted their own investigations, and have proposed measures to address their various shortcomings.

IDA also said it has already embarked on a review of the resilience of Singapore's infocomm infrastructure in the beginning of the year.

And some of the areas covered in the review include examining potential failure points, single points of failure -- which is part of a system that will stop the entire system from working if it breaks down -- and strengthening diversity in critical infrastructure and services.

In addition, IDA has worked with the industry to put in place a set of operating procedures to improve inter-operator communication during major service disruptions. 

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