BT is abandoning its promise to ensure phone users aged 70 and over can keep their landlines and will not be forced to use controversial new digital lines for 12 months, and will register them immediately.
The telecoms giant was forced to shelve its initial launch last year after an investigation by our sister newspaper, The Mail on Sunday, alerted industry watchdog Ofcom to operational failings, including the way it Customers cannot use their phone lines in the event of a power outage.
It was only restarted after an advisory group agreed to allow elderly homeowners the chance to delay installation by 12 months so they could familiarize themselves with the new technology and not feel obligated by the move.
Among those involved in this Digital Voice Advisory Group was the older people’s campaign organisation, Silver Voices.
Aaron Comber from Steyning, Sussex, fears his 75-year-old mother will be isolated if she is forced to move.
The switch to traditional copper landlines will be rolled out across the UK at different times over the next year.
But now he feels cheated, as after agreeing to the deal, BT is quietly raising the age at which installation can be delayed to 75.
Dennis Reed, director of Silver Voices, says: “We were part of that advisory group and agreed not to oppose the resumption of the rollout as long as 70-year-olds were cared for during the change. “We have been misled and BT has reneged on this commitment. ‘
Although BT is alerting households about the change (with postcards and letters, emails and text messages), it is leaving it up to customers to put it on hold.
The new digital phones must be plugged into a power outlet and require a broadband connection to work, using technology called Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) instead of analog signals over copper lines.
Six million adults do not own a mobile phone and 1.5 million households do not use the Internet.
Digital Voice requires customers to use a new phone, or an adapter for older phones, that plugs into an Internet and power outlet.
If you don’t use the internet, BT says it will send engineers to retrofit phone lines for free and provide you with a new digital phone and adapter for free.
BT charges £85 for batteries for those who fear being trapped in a power outage, but for vulnerable customers it should provide them free of charge. Phone users should not notice a change in sound quality.
Over the next two years, BT wants to move 10 million customers digital. At the national level, the Government wants all 29 million homes to adopt digital technology.
BT initially agreed it would allow everyone over 70 the opportunity to delay the change for a year to give customers time to adapt to the technology.
Digital Voice is being rolled out region by region. Some two million homes have already changed.
In July it focused on the East Midlands and in August began contacting those in Yorkshire and Humberside, giving them four weeks’ notice that they were next to come online. Northern Ireland is also in the spotlight.
Houses in the North West and London will be contacted this autumn. Initially, customers receive emails and text messages, along with cards posted to the mailbox. BT is holding regional town meetings.
BT has announced the next phase of its transition to Digital Voice, which will see it scrap the old copper network in favor of broadband phone calls.
BT memorably used Maureen Lipman as ‘Beattie’ (pictured) to promote landline services in the 1980s
Jackie Carlton, 70, from Kilham in the East Riding of Yorkshire, was told that she and her husband Allan, 71, would be moving in the summer, but were not given any information about how they could delay the move because Jackie could be classified as vulnerable. her, since she has cancer.
The retired librarian says: “The hospital tried to call to make an appointment, but the landline had been changed to digital voice without my knowledge, so nothing could be communicated.” We live in a rural area with power outages and terrible mobile reception, so I rarely use a mobile phone. My experience shows how this change puts people’s lives at risk.’
BT says it will “not proactively shift” vulnerable households but admits it is the customer’s responsibility to ask the telecoms giant to give them a 12-month respite.
Questions and answers: WHAT IS THE CHANGE AND WILL IT AFFECT ME?
Will I need a fast connection?
Internet speeds of just one megabit per second (Mbps) should be sufficient for good digital phone service. And every UK household has the right to demand a download speed of at least 10Mbps.
Will my bills increase?
Customers will have to pay for Internet to use their home phone. But experts have said providers are likely to offer basic, affordable deals similar to landline-only contracts. It is unknown if customers with older phones will need to purchase a new phone or if they will receive one for free.
What happens if the Internet goes down?
If the Internet fails or there is a power outage, digital phone lines will stop working. Those who are vulnerable or do not have a mobile phone should be offered a backup, such as a battery, emergency hotline or mobile phone, so they can still call 999 in an emergency.
What I need to do?
Nothing yet. Those with landline-only or no-internet offerings will hear from their providers later.
Ruth Comber, 75, from Steyning in West Sussex, says: ‘As a widow, I am totally reliant on my landline. I have a cell phone, but the reception is so bad where I live that it would be quicker to use a pigeon post to communicate. This change fills me with dread.
His son Aaron, 53, a former pub owner, said: “Anyone in a rural area without mobile coverage will be completely isolated in the event of a power cut.”
After the change, the old telephone lines are simply cut, and those who are not aware of the change may not realize what has happened until the calls stop or they are unable to dial.
Others affected are those who carry sanitary pendants or have a home alarm system connected to the local fire service, as these also often stop working.
Neville Withers, 84, from Acton, west London, says: ‘There are many like me with mobility problems. I have a button attached to my wrist that I can press in case of emergency. It is routed through a traditional landline to a healthcare center. If the button fails, it could be a matter of life or death.
Other telecoms providers involved in the digital launch include Virgin Media. It has five million customers, including retired mental health nurse Trevor Bailey.
This 73-year-old man says: ‘I’m exchanging a perfectly good landline for a system I don’t want. I can’t get through to Virgin on the phone without them trying to connect me to an ‘expert chatbot’ computer, so I’m struggling to find a real person to explain my desire not to switch.’
Virgin says it can provide phones to vulnerable customers in the event of power outages with a backup time of eight hours. It also states that it will offer technical support up to six months before the change, with visits from engineers.
BT says: ‘We are trialling the rollout of Digital Voice to a limited number of broadband customers aged 70 and over who live in urban areas and are ready to make the switch. Early results show that 98 percent of customers between 70 and 74 years old chose to switch.
He said upgrading to “future-proof landlines” was essential because existing technology “is quickly becoming obsolete”.
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