Petition Review Timetable For Phasing Out Copper Wire Landlines

The Government should work with Ofcom & the major telecom suppliers to review the timetable for the switch to digital telephone lines. We believe that doing so by 2025 is totally unrealistic if vulnerable customers are to be protected. The new internet-based system should be phased in over 5+ years.

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We think the industry is putting profit before safety. Vulnerable customers, often lacking digital skills, are losing access to traditional landlines despite serious concerns over the reliability of the new system, lack of emergency back-up, and potential costs for households. Some alarms and telecare systems are incompatible with the new system. Silver Voices and Digital Poverty Alliance want the two systems to work in parallel for at least five years so that vulnerable people are not forced to transfer prematurely.

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Government responded

This response was given on 15 February 2024

The PSTN migration is industry-led but Government and Ofcom are monitoring communication providers to ensure that consumers and sectors are protected and prepared for the upgrade process.

As the PSTN is a privately-owned telecoms network, the decision to upgrade it has been made by the telecoms industry. The Government has no formal role in administering or deciding timelines for the switchover.

Like you, safety is my priority and we have been weighing up options and their implications for public safety. The industry’s decision to upgrade the PSTN is due to necessity as the network is increasingly unreliable and failure prone, with a lack of spare parts and the engineering experts retiring. Therefore, retaining the PSTN rather than migrating customers to a more modern, resilient network would also put people at risk.

Data shows a rising number of PSTN failures, and Ofcom reports that the impact of these failures are increasing. The PSTN is also significantly less energy efficient than VoIP. As such, it would not be appropriate to pass legislation to cease a migration that needs to take place. This would delay a migration that is inevitable and already happening in other countries. Any legislation would also take months to pass, with the migration continuing in the interim.

Outside the UK, other countries have either already switched off their PSTN networks or are in the process of doing so. Estonia and The Netherlands have switched off their PSTN networks, with Germany and France soon to follow.

I agree with you it is vital that operators prioritise customer safety and make arrangements for vulnerable people as part of the migration. This includes elderly citizens; people with mental or physical impairments; or those with other vulnerabilities. Government has taken steps to ensure vulnerable consumers are protected. In December 2023, the Secretary of State for DSIT convened the UK’s leading communications providers to discuss ways to improve protections for vulnerable consumers. In response, the major communications providers have now signed a Charter committing to measures to protect vulnerable households. This charter can be found here - https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/public-switched-telephone-network-charter/public-switched-telephone-network-charter

We appreciate customers’ concerns about resilience needs in a power cut. Ofcom has issued guidance on how telecoms companies can fulfil their obligation to ensure that customers have access to emergency services during a power cut.

This guidance states that providers should have at least one solution available that enables access to emergency organisations for at least one hour in the event of an outage. This solution should be suitable for customers’ needs and offered free of charge to those who are at risk. These are minimum standards, and many solutions exceed them, such as longer life battery back-up units and 4G enabled handsets. The guidance was issued after a consultation with the general public, telecoms providers, and Ofgem, looking at data on the average length of UK power outages. Government and Ofcom are monitoring how Communications Providers meet this obligation.

The resilience of the UK’s fixed and mobile telecoms networks is of paramount importance for DSIT. The Secretary of State asked Ofcom to review the general resilience of telecommunications services in the event of prolonged power outages. As set out in the Charter, Communications Providers will work towards having longer commitments in place beyond the minimum one hour. In response, in December 2023, Ofcom launched a consultation (https://www.ofcom.org.uk/consultations-and-statements/category-1/resilience-guidance) on the resilience of the sector that includes a separate call for input on power backup for mobile radio access networks. We await the outcome of the consultation.

Our public libraries play an important role in supporting digital inclusion. With 2,900 public library branches across England, libraries provide a trusted network of accessible locations with trained staff and volunteers, free Wi-Fi and public PCs, and assisted digital access to a wide range of digital services.

It is important to note that PSTN migration does not affect the universal service obligations set in the Electronic Communications (Universal Service) Order 2003 which require the designated providers (BT and KCOM) to offer telephony services throughout the UK. BT and KCOM will still be required to maintain access to a range of telephony services and provide a series of specific measures designed for users who have a disability.

If you have questions I encourage you to reach out to your Communications Provider in the first instance. They will be able to provide additional guidance, support and information about how they are approaching this switchover.

Department for Science, Innovation and Technology

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MPs debate digital exclusion

MPs held a debate on digital exclusion on Wednesday 28 February in Westminster Hall. The debate was led by Justin Madders MP.

What is a Westminster Hall debate?

Westminster Hall is the second chamber of the House of Commons. Westminster Hall debates give MPs an opportunity to raise local and national issues and receive a response from a government minister. Westminster Hall debates are general debates that do not end in a vote.

Interactive explainer: Westminster Hall debates

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