Nobody should be left behind during switch over to internet-based phones

Comment from a correspondent: “Fiddling while Rome burns.  I’ve been changed to an internet phone (Virgin) and offered an alternative phone if I am vulnerable.”

Simon Jupp

In our modern age, some increasingly old-fashioned things are still sticking around.

Cash and coins are thankfully still widely used despite never-ending efforts to make everyone go contactless.

Not everyone likes tapping a card and cash helps businesses manage small and informal payments like tips.

It seems traditional landline telephones will stick around a bit longer, too.

Regular readers may remember that I previously wrote about plans by telephone bosses to switch off the copper-wire technology which make calls on landlines by 2025. Everyone would have been moved to an internet-based connection. 

The good news is that BT Openreach – who manage the UK’s phone network – have now paused plans to disconnect traditional phone lines.

I raised my concerns with the Secretary of State a few months ago that half of older people over 75 are not online, areas with no mobile signal and without internet risk being cut off from essential services, and internet can go off in power cuts leaving no alternative to make emergency calls if you don’t have a mobile.

Storms Arwen and Eunice brought the last key concern into sharp focus and drove BT to announce that they’re pausing the programme for now. They will only transfer people who request it.

To give a quite tragic example reported in the news of where the digital switch-over could potentially go wrong, during Storm Arwen a man’s home burned down in a remote part of Scotland because he had no mobile signal and could not call 999 on his internet-based landline phone during the power cut.

BT admitted they need to sort out how to raise more awareness of the digital change, how to provide emergency solutions like battery-back up units or hybrid phones that can switch between the internet and mobile networks, and how to address so-called mobile ‘not-spots’. Regulator Ofcom has also warned that some devices such as panic alarms which use analogue phone lines would cease to function, potentially affecting 500,000 vulnerable people.

As your MP, I will continue to pressure BT, Ofcom, and the government to make sure nobody is left behind.