Petition demanding phone giants delay scrapping landlines amid fears vulnerable pensioners could be cut off hits 10,000 signatures – forcing a government response

A petition calling for the digital switchover from traditional copper landlines to internet-based services to be delayed has received more than 10,000 signatures, meaning the government must issue a response.

Campaigners from Silver Voices and the Digital Poverty Alliance launched the petition amid fears that the forced rollout of digital services could leave pensioners and vulnerable people isolated in the event of a power cut or internet outage.

Telecoms firms including BT, EE and Virgin Media have already had to pause the rollout to some customers after concerns were raised about personal alarm systems relying on access to landlines to call emergency services.

The firms originally proposed a timetable to switch all the UK’s homes to internet-based services by 2025, but campaigners warned this was going ‘too far, too fast’.

Dennis Reed, director of Silver Voices, said: ‘The strong public response to the petition has been encouraging, with many supportive comments on social media as well as the 10,000 signatures obtained in double quick time.

The petition has more than 10,000 signatures, meaning the government must issue a response

The petition has more than 10,000 signatures, meaning the government must issue a response

Over the next few years, the Digital Voice program will move ten million BT customers from traditional copper telephone lines to fiber cables using new Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology to make calls

Over the next few years, the Digital Voice program will move ten million BT customers from traditional copper telephone lines to fiber cables using new Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology to make calls

‘Our feedback suggests that large sections of the population are still unaware of this major infrastructure change and it comes as a huge shock when their telecommunications company tells them that their landline will be switched off in a few weeks.’

He continued: ‘The government must now clearly state its position on the current unrealistic timescale and take joint responsibility with the telecommunications giants to protect older and more vulnerable customers.

‘It is very clear that thousands are being switched to digital voice without any assessment of the personal safety implications of the residents concerned.

“At the moment there is no reliable solution for those who may need to make an emergency call in the event of a power outage or internet outage, especially where mobile signals are weak or non-existent. And issues surrounding the compatibility of telecare and personal alarm systems remain unresolved.

‘We believe that the only responsible way forward is to extend the timetable for phasing out traditional copper wire landlines and make the switch voluntary until safe solutions are developed.

‘This issue will bite politicians again if they endorse the industry’s current plans, which are driven by commercial rather than safety considerations.’

Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan previously called a meeting with the heads of leading telecoms firms after several ‘serious incidents’ involving the new landline services.

Telecommunications giants are currently switching all landline phones to digital in Britain’s 29 million homes, making their services internet-based.

Dennis Reed, director of Silver Voices representing over 60s, calls for a boycott of the digital switchover by older people

Dennis Reed, director of Silver Voices representing over 60s, calls for a boycott of the digital switchover by older people

This is when the change from the old copper network to a new broadband-based connection will take place across the UK

This is when the change from the old copper network to a new broadband-based connection will take place across the UK

It’s a problem plaguing many frustrated Brits, and now a new report has revealed the UK areas with the fastest and slowest broadband

In the next few years, the Digital Voice program will move ten million BT customers alone from traditional copper phone lines to fiber cables using new Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology to make calls.

But concerns have been raised about vulnerable and elderly people relying on a landline to alert responders if a personal alarm – believed to be used by around 1.8 million Britons – is activated.

The alarm buttons, usually worn around the neck or on the wrist, automatically call a response center when pressed by the wearer’s landline. Operators can then check if a person needs help and send someone if necessary.

Unlike digital services, copper land lines typically work even in the event of a power outage.

Providers have agreed to carry out extra checks on those who have already been forcibly migrated to digital to ensure that they do not have telecare devices that the provider was not aware of and, if so, to ensure that suitable support is provided.

But campaigners do not feel the measures go far enough and are calling for a delay until firms can guarantee the safety of vulnerable customers.

The petition has already reached more than 10,300 signatures. At 100,000, the government will consider it for debate in the House of Commons.

It comes as BT posted a rise in profits on Thursday due to price rises as it continues its rollout of ultrafast broadband.

Adjusted revenue rose to £15.8bn in the final quarter of 2023, up three per cent, with earnings increasing by the same percentage to £6.1bn.

Overall, pre-tax profits rose 15 per cent to £1.5bn.

Chief executive Allison Kirkby said: ‘BT Group delivered another quarter of revenue and ebitda (earnings before tax, interest, depreciation and amortisation) growth as customers rapidly built and upgraded to our full fiber broadband and 5G networks, and we continue to be on track to achieve our financial outlook for the year.

‘We are providing excellent digital connectivity and services, while laying the foundations for future growth that will benefit our customers, investors and the UK.’

‘As I take on the role of chief executive, we remain committed to our purpose and our strategic focus, and I look forward to leading BT Group in its next phase of development.’

A Virgin Media spokesman said: ‘With old copper phone lines becoming less and less resilient, this switch is necessary to future-proof home phone networks.

“While we never committed to a firm end date, we have currently paused all landline migrations and will not resume until additional improvements are implemented.

‘Telecom companies cannot complete this work alone and we are having constructive discussions with government, local authorities and the telecare industry about how they can support this transition.’

BT and EE have been contacted for comment.