Digital Switchover causes concern in rural communities

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Most people will be aware of the planned changes within the telecommunications industry - Over the next few years, landline telephone services in the UK will switch to a fully digital network.

This means ‘phone calls will be carried over the internet rather than the existing old copper telephone lines.  ‘Phone companies intend to withdraw the existing analogue telephone system, called the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), by 2025.  The reasons given are that the PSTN is an aging network that is becoming harder and more expensive to maintain.

Unlike traditional landlines, digital ‘phone lines will not work in a power cut without a backup power source and inevitably rural areas tend to see more power cuts because of a weaker infrastructure and a likelihood that they will be hit harder by storms, some lasting for long periods of time.

To exacerbate this, mobile coverage can be poor in rural areas and when emergency services are called, they take much longer to arrive.  This is causing anxiety within these communities, and many are worried that it will have an unfair impact on those in harder to reach areas. 

It has been reported that there are issues relating to telecare, alarms, health monitors etc. and anyone with concerns is being encouraged to contact their telecoms provider for help and guidance. 

What about customers without an internet connection?

The move to VoIP landline services will require all premises to have a broadband connection to make ‘phone calls.  Although customers will require a broadband connection, they should not necessarily need to subscribe to a high-speed broadband service package.  VoIP only needs very low broadband speeds of around 0.5 Mbps.  The Government has said that customers who would prefer a landline-only service will be able to have a digital landline from BT without purchasing a general internet connection.  According to BT this will cost no more than existing landline-only services.

The Local Government Association have put together a useful toolkit for councils and partners to use to raise awareness of the digital switchover.  Local government has a critical role to play in the digital switchover to implement the solutions required to support residents and prevent impact on their day-to-day life.  The toolkit contains assets aimed at residents to raise awareness of the upcoming switchover.  They have also issued a guide to help prevent and disrupt anyone from using the digital switchover as a means to advance criminal activity.

Action to support rural communities announced.

100,000 homes and businesses in the most remote and rural parts of the UK will be further supported to access substantially improved broadband connections, under plans outlined by the Secretary of State for Rural Affairs according to a report published on Monday 2nd October.

The Government is committed to ensuring rural communities have access to reliable gigabit-capable broadband connection across the UK, with a target of reaching 85% of premises by 2025 and to reach as close to 100 per cent as soon as possible after.

However, a small minority of premises in rural and remote areas of the UK – known as ‘Very Hard to Reach Premises’ – are unlikely to benefit directly from the substantial activity across the telecoms industry to deliver gigabit-capable broadband services.  This can be caused by their isolated location, low population density or limited existing telecoms infrastructure – all of which can make them challenging to connect.