KPN's headquarters in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Picture: REUTERS/PIROSCHKA VAN WOUW
KPN's headquarters in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Picture: REUTERS/PIROSCHKA VAN WOUW

Amsterdam — The Netherlands launched an inquiry on Tuesday into a nationwide network outage at telecoms company KPN that knocked out emergency service numbers for nearly four hours.

Monday’s network problem, which rendered national police, ambulance and fire department emergency numbers unreachable, did not appear to be the result of a security breach, KPN said, without giving any further details.

Justice minister Ferd Grapperhaus told Dutch legislators that during the outage three KPN backup systems had failed, and the government had moved to an “analogue” play-book crafted for situations in which digital services failed. That involved sending police and firefighters onto the street and directing people with health emergencies to seek their own transport to hospitals.

There were no reports of serious mishaps as a result of the outage, which prompted calls for a change in the system.

“I want to investigate thoroughly how the outage at KPN could have started and the consequences for emergency services, and then also look at how the crisis management went,” Grapperhaus said in the Dutch parliament.

In addition to other problems, a new national alert system that posts messages directly to cellphones had failed to work in many cases, and sent multiple messages in others. In one message it accidentally listed a newspaper’s tip-line as an alternate phone number for emergency services.

“If three fail-safes don’t work then something is seriously wrong,” Socialist Party legislator Ronald van Raak said.

“If there is such bungling at KPN then we should make sure that a different provider, a different telecommunications company can take it over, right?”

Grapperhaus agreed he would look at the possibility.

KPN was privatised in the 1990s but is still the country’s largest telecoms group, followed by subsidiaries of Vodafone and T-Mobile.

Two people died during an outage of the Dutch emergency services numbers in 2012 and then justice minister Ivo Opstelten said measures had been taken to prevent a recurrence.

Outgoing CEO Maximo Ibarra. Picture: REUTERS/PIROSCHKA VAN DE WOUW
Outgoing CEO Maximo Ibarra. Picture: REUTERS/PIROSCHKA VAN DE WOUW

CEO to leave

The morning after the outage KPN announced that CE Maximo Ibarra will leave due to "family reasons" after a little over a year in the job, adding that the Colombian-Italian executive's decision was not linked to the outage.

Ibarra will return to Italy where he will take charge of Comcast's Sky Italia pay-television business, two sources close to the matter said.

"I regret the timing, but family reasons gave me no choice," Ibarra said in a statement. "I will dedicate myself in the coming months to securing a seamless transfer to my successor."

Ibarra will stay at KPN, whose shares traded 2.4% lower,  until the end of September as it seeks a replacement.

KPN has sold its international activities and now only serves the Dutch market, selling bundles of telephone, internet and TV services to consumers and businesses.