EU telecommunications concept

EU telecoms and emergency service providers warn against risk of power cuts

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Europe is facing potential energy rationing and power outages, putting some key services such as emergency calls and infrastructure like telecoms networks at risk.

Europe's top telecoms operators and emergency service providers are urging Brussels to take action to shield mobile and fixed grids from power cuts, Reuters has reported. 

The joint letter sent on Monday is the first formal step by the European Telecommunications Network Operators (ETNO) and the European Emergency Number Association (EENA) to pressure the European Union executive body to step in.

ETNO represents former phone monopolies such as Germany's Deutsche Telekom, Spain's Telefonica and Telecom Italia, while EENA speaks for more than 1,500 emergency services representatives from over 80 countries.

"Should telecommunications networks be subject to planned outages, citizens would risk not having access to communications services for the duration of the outage, including emergency communications," the letter signed by the heads of EENA and ETNO said.

Although the EU has been stockpiling fuel to face the winter, forecasts of freezing temperatures have led several countries to begin making preparations for the possibility of having to impose power cuts. 

Last week, the French government last week started instructing officials to plan for potential rolling electricity outages as soon as next month, while Finnish electric car owners have been advised not to heat their plugged-in vehicles in the mornings.

In the UK, Britain’s National Grid operator has warned households of possible blackouts from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. if gas used to produce electricity runs short.  

According to the letter seen by Reuters, should any instance of energy rationing occur over the winter, essential services such as hospitals, police services and food production facilities would be prioritised. 

Most public safety answering points (PSAPs) - call centres connecting emergency calls - are already designated as critical infrastructure, the letter said, meaning that every reasonable measure would be taken to ensure that they are not affected by power outages.

But emergency services and telecoms operators are worried that telecoms infrastructure, which relies on connection to the electricity grid to operate, is not always deemed critical. 

"We are concerned that telecommunications networks may not have been placed on priority sector lists," it said. 

The letter called on the EU Commission to work with member states to ensure energy supply is maintained to the grids if power rationing occurs to grant citizens access to emergency services. It also warned about the potential risks that contingency plans could face in this situation. 

"In our experience, batteries and diesel generators placed in mobile base stations are an easy target for vandalism and theft, and maintenance costs are high," the letter said. "Extending the current limited own back-up energy supply of telecommunication networks is not an option, as it would be not only extremely expensive, but also as such an extension would take years."

The letter was sent to Ditte Juul Jorgensen, director general of the EU Commission's energy department, and her counterpart at the communications networks department, Roberto Viola.

The looming energy crisis in Europe has been considered the direct result of Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The bloc used to import around 40 per cent of its natural gas from the Russian giant but over the last year has been taking steps to divert itself from the Russian gas and look for alternative trading partners in the US and Morocco

Europe has nearly half a million telecom towers, and most of them have battery backups to run mobile antennas that last around 30 minutes.

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