BT scraps digital landline switch deadline

BT has significantly delayed plans to force customers to switch from physical copper-based landlines to internet-based services following concerns from vulnerable people.

The switch was paused at the end of last year after several incidents where telecare devices stopped working.

Nearly two million people in the UK use personal alarms which rely on landlines.

BT, which is also responsible for EE customers, has now abandoned the timeline of completing the national switchover by the end of 2025, and will instead aim to complete the move by the end of January 2027.

But a campaign group for elderly people has told the BBC the revised timeline is “a token concession”.

“The delay is for just over a year, which we don’t think is long enough to make sure there are sufficient safeguards for vulnerable customers,” said Silver Voices head Dennis Reed.

“BT and the other telecoms firms haven’t even worked out what a vulnerable customer actually is, and we are calling for a more defined definition.

“We feel the deadline of January 2027 is very premature.”

The move is highly controversial because it will mean an outage, which can be a frequent occurrence in some rural areas, could cause landline phones to no longer work.

It means there is a risk that customers who need personal alarms, which are potentially life-saving, could be left disconnected and without a working device.

BT said its new timetable followed the introduction of a series of improvements to better protect vulnerable customers and those with additional needs.

“The urgency for switching customers onto digital services grows by the day because the 40-year-old analogue landline technology is increasingly fragile,” said BT head of security and networks Howard Watson.

“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.”

BT said it will protect vulnerable customers where it is made aware of them, and it plans to provide “resilient solutions” to those who are dependent on their landline.

The measures include providing free battery back-up units and offering hybrid phones which can use both broadband and mobile networks.

But some campaign groups said these solutions were still confusing.

“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,” said Digital Poverty Alliance head Elizabeth Anderson.

“Who pays for new phones, battery packs or other kit, and support for people to learn new skills or behaviours – such as keeping emergency backups charged 24/7?”

The move is part of BT’s digital voice changeover plan, which requires all households to have an internet connection.

It has not yet been confirmed whether other firms will follow suit.

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