BT changes the digital switchover deadline

BT has significantly postponed its plans to transition customers from traditional copper-based landlines to internet-based services, due to concerns raised by vulnerable individuals.

BT Group has announced a revision to its timetable for moving all customers – consumers and businesses – off the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) and onto digital landlines. The move follows the introduction of a series of improvements to the programme to better protect vulnerable customers and those with additional needs, including telecare users.

BT Group’s Consumer division has re-started switching zero-use landline customers who have a broadband connection to its Digital Voice landline service. This follows an industry-wide pause and the introduction of the Government’s Charter to protect vulnerable customers, especially telecare users, while making the switch from analogue to digital landlines.

BT Consumer customers (except landline-only customers, those who use telecare or who have additional needs) will be contacted and offered the chance to switch to a digital landline provided over full fibre broadband, where available. This move aligns with BT Group’s wider strategy to build and connect customers to its future-proof, full fibre broadband, which will be available to 25 million premises by the end of 2026.  

BT Business is urging all of its customers to engage early and to partner with the company ahead of making the switch, especially where there may be a requirement to test existing or upgrade to new equipment to ensure compatibility with a digital line.

The revised approach will result in a single switch for the majority of customers (businesses and consumers) – from copper to fibre – with all customers now expected to have moved off the old analogue PSTN by the end of January 2027.

Howard Watson, Chief Security and Networks Officer, BT Group, said: “The urgency for switching customers onto digital services grows by the day because the 40-year-old analogue landline technology is increasingly fragile. Managing customer migrations from analogue to digital as quickly and smoothly as possible, while making the necessary provisions for those customers with additional needs, including telecare users, is critically important.

“Our priority remains doing this safely and the work we’re doing with our peers, local authorities, telecare providers and key Government organisations is key. But more needs to be done and we need all local authorities and telecare providers to share with us the phone lines where they know there’s a telecare user.”

The digital switch requires collaboration across a range of industries and organisations

During the voluntary pause, the company has continued to raise awareness of the UK’s digital switchover on a region-by-region basis, holding hundreds of events across the country and meeting thousands of its customers face to face.

In January BT Consumer led the formation of the Telecare Action Board (TAB), which has brought together around 30 organisations from Government, the telecoms and telecare sectors, industry bodies, local authorities and regulatory stakeholders to identify and protect telecare users and those with additional needs before they switch to digital.

Coming together was the first step, collaborating was the second. The whole industry must now step up to deliver for customers in the spirit of the Charter, providing the transparency which is critical to the success of this programme. So far, only around a quarter of local authorities and telecare providers have disclosed which phone lines have telecare devices on them; it’s now imperative that every single one of these organisations do the same so that these customers receive the right support at the right time.

A gradual approach to switching

April 2024, BT Consumer resumed non-voluntary migrations for customers who have not used their landline in the last 12 months, who do not identify as vulnerable or have additional needs, have not contacted an Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC) in the last 24 months and live in an area where a data sharing agreement – which identifies vulnerable customers and detects alarm numbers is in place with the Local Authority or Telecare provider. Switching them to a digital landline provided over full fibre where available on an opt out basis initially.

From Summer 2024, BT Consumer will ramp-up non-voluntary migrations for customers who do not identify as vulnerable or have additional needs, in areas where data sharing agreements have been signed with the local authority or telecare provider.

For customers who don’t use broadband, which includes landline-only consumer customers and business customers with specialist connectivity requirements, including some alarms, lift and emergency lines, ATMs and payment terminals, the company is working on an interim, dedicated landline service1 designed to keep these customers connected while moving them off the analogue PSTN.

New equipment will be installed in local telephone exchanges that will allow consumer and business customers who do not have broadband to use their landline in the same way as they do today until a digital solution becomes available or 2030, if that comes sooner. Trials have already begun with a nationwide rollout for eligible customers expected this Autumn.

BT Business is urging all of its business and public sector customers to register their interest to test this temporary ‘pre-digital phone line’ product, so it can work with them to understand specific business use cases.

From Spring 2025, BT Consumer will contact customers who identify as vulnerable or with additional needs about the switch in areas where data sharing agreements with Local Authorities or Telecare companies are in place and in-home support for telecare users is available.

All customers will be contacted at least four weeks in advance before making the switch, to ensure they are ready to move to a digital landline. Engineering appointments will be made ahead of the switch and additional support will be provided on the day to ensure that customers are left with a working telecare device.

Backing Businesses

The company is asking business customers, large and small to act now and move over to all-digital networks, to futureproof their operations and reap the rewards of being a digital business. 

Business customers are being encouraged to review their technology footprint and identify what’s still connected to the PSTN. BT Business has a team of experts to support, and any business can test their equipment for free at its R&D test centre at Adastral Park in Suffolk. Where possible, they should then proceed to switch any legacy equipment to an All-IP alternative. 

BT’s Business team is also working with Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) customers in sectors like energy, water, transport, health and national security – to guide them seamlessly away from the PSTN and onto more reliable, resilient and future-fit technology.

Luke Simmonds

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