BT will replace traditional landline handsets with a new 'digital' phone as fears grow for the elderly

Asia's Tech News Daily

BT will replace traditional phone lines with new ‘digital’ phones in a move that campaigners are slamming, as fears grow for the elderly’s ability to function without them.

The update from the broadband service has raised fears that millions will be isolated because not everyone has access to the internet.

There are an estimated 1.5million homes in the country that don’t have internet access and it’s these people that campaigners are fearful for.

Jan Shortt, general secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, told ChronicleLive : “If there is a power cut, this digital phone line will no longer work – and a potential lifeline for elderly people will be suddenly lost.

“Those needing to make an emergency call or raise an alarm via a health pendant could be left stranded – and unable to call anyone to ask for life-saving support.”

According to Ofcom, roughly 1.5 million homes, or 6%, do not have access to the Internet meaning those homeowners may need an engineer to visit them to get them set up and those with older phones could need to buy a new handset.

Even with a phone there are fears that the elderly and vulnerable will not know how to use a mobile phone so this move to the digital world will isolate them.

BT’s switchover, branded ‘Digital Voice’, began two years ago and has so far converted two million landlines.

This will involve an engineer visiting for free to fix ‘digital voice’ sockets inside your home.

BT claims customers should not see prices rise due to the change. Those already signed up for internet service will see the landline charge included as part of the total bill – whether they use BT or a competitor.

Ms Shortt continued: “BT has no idea that many older people do not want a fancy smartphone or cannot afford one. It is wrong to discriminate against those who are not wired up to the internet.”

Ofcom has stressed that telecoms providers have an obligation to ensure these households have access to emergency services, which may be fulfilled by providing a free mobile phone to customers.

Openreach, which runs the majority of the nation’s wire and cable infrastructure, has been working with businesses for months to ensure they are ready, and has stressed that protecting vulnerable customers is “an absolute priority”.

Caroline Abrahams, director of Age UK, said: “Given that about half of older people over the age of 75 are not online, this could be a particular problem for our oldest citizens.”

Under guidelines laid down by Ofcom, BT must ensure customers can contact emergency services in a power cut that lasts more than an hour. But how this can be achieved if you lose access from an internet phone line or do not have a mobile phone – or signal – is not clear.

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