French government summons telecom chief over emergency line failure

The French government on Thursday summoned the head of telecom operator Orange over a network outage that prevented people from reaching emergency services for hours, possibly resulting in three deaths.

A person in the western region of Morbihan who suffers from a heart condition has died after failing to call during the outage that lasted at least six hours on Wednesday evening, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said.

While it was not certain that the deaths were directly caused by long delays in reaching, “there is no doubt that people have told us that they have tried several times to call and were unable to get an operator right away,” he told reporters. . in Paris.

Two people with cardiovascular disease in the La Réunion overseas territory were also reported dead.

Prime Minister Jean Castex, who traveled to Tunisia with Darmanin and Digital Affairs Minister Cedric O on Wednesday, said he had asked both ministers to return quickly to Paris to deal with the crisis.

From Tunisia, Castex called the outage on Thursday “an important event that we have taken seriously” and from which “we must draw all necessary consequences”.

Darmanin called the outage a “serious and unacceptable outage,” Darmanin said Stephane Richard, the CEO of Orange, France’s largest telecommunications company, was summoned to his ministry early Thursday “to tell us the current state of affairs”.

The government said many emergency centers for medical services, police and firefighters across the country were affected by the outage.

‘Do not panic’

Health Minister Olivier Véran said on Wednesday that the incident “caused quite random outages, with a drop of up to 30 percent in some regions”, and advised people to call local numbers.

Orange told AFP that a “technical incident on a router had disrupted VoIP enormously” [voice over internet protocol] calls in some regions”.

A source close to the case ruled out any form of “hacking.”

Orange apologized for the incident and said on Wednesday that its teams had identified the problem and were “fully mobilized to restore services as quickly as possible”.

On Thursday, the operator said the network had been up and running since midnight but was still being monitored and alternative emergency numbers remained available.

As of 6pm (1600 GMT), problems were reported across the country, leaving emergency services in trouble.

The head of the emergency medical services union at Samu-Urgences, Francois Braun, said: “People couldn’t access the service, calls didn’t come through, others were cut off in the middle of a call.”

He said nearly all French departments were affected, adding that emergency calls usually peak around 7 p.m.

“This caused chaos in the organization,” said Philippe Juvin, head of emergency room at Georges-Pompidou Hospital in Paris.

“But there was no panic and we adapted quickly and told ourselves it wouldn’t be long and it would be solved overnight,” he told Radio Classique.

Orange competitors Bouygues and Altice, owner of SFR, said on Thursday they also recorded reports of service outages, with sources at both companies ruling out malicious intent.

The French outage follows similar problems at the Belgian operator Proximus at the beginning of January, when emergency numbers were interrupted for an entire night.


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