BT Scraps Digital Landline Switch Deadline Amid Vulnerability Concerns

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BT has significantly postponed its plans to switch customers from traditional copper-based landlines to internet-based services, following concerns about the impact on vulnerable individuals. Initially set for completion by the end of 2025, the switch is now delayed until the end of January 2027.

The decision comes after several incidents where telecare devices, crucial for nearly two million UK residents using personal alarms, stopped working during the transition. The initial pause occurred at the end of last year due to these critical issues.

Silver Voices, a campaign group for elderly people, expressed dissatisfaction with the revised timeline, calling it “a token concession.” Dennis Reed, head of Silver Voices, stated, “The delay is for just over a year, which we don’t think is long enough to ensure sufficient safeguards for vulnerable customers. BT and other telecoms firms haven’t even defined what constitutes a vulnerable customer. We feel the deadline of January 2027 is very premature.”

The controversy stems from the potential risk of outages in internet-based services, which could render landline phones inoperable, particularly in rural areas prone to frequent service interruptions. This poses a significant risk for customers reliant on personal alarms.

BT has introduced a series of improvements aimed at protecting vulnerable customers and those with additional needs. Howard Watson, BT’s head of security and networks, emphasized the urgency of the switch due to the fragility of the 40-year-old analogue landline technology. “Managing customer migrations from analogue to digital as quickly and smoothly as possible, while making the necessary provisions for those customers with additional needs, is critically important,” Watson said.

To mitigate risks, BT plans to offer free battery backup units and hybrid phones capable of using both broadband and mobile networks. However, some campaign groups argue that these solutions are still confusing. Elizabeth Anderson, head of Digital Poverty Alliance, pointed out the need for better communication about the changes. “For many older people or those who need a simple landline running even through power cuts, there is still much to be done to communicate what the changes mean for them,” Anderson said. She also raised concerns about who would bear the cost of new phones, battery packs, and the necessary support for users to adapt to new systems.

BT’s digital voice changeover plan requires all households to have an internet connection. It remains to be seen whether other telecom firms will follow BT’s revised schedule or adopt similar measures. The company’s commitment to protecting vulnerable customers will be crucial in managing this significant technological transition.

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