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Digital Phone Network: Vulnerable Customers

Volume 743: debated on Wednesday 10 January 2024

2. What steps her Department is taking to help ensure that vulnerable customers are supported when their phone lines are transitioned to the digital network. (900780)

On 14 December, I convened the UK’s leading telecom providers to discuss the next steps to protect vulnerable households when providers upgrade phone lines. As a result, telecom providers have now signed a charter, committing to concrete measures to protect vulnerable households. This is a positive step by industry to make sure that safety continues to be at the heart of the nationwide switchover.

A concern about the new digital network for vulnerable people in North West Norfolk who rely on personal alarms in emergencies is loss of service in a power cut. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that those welcome new protections deliver robust back-up plans in such circumstances, and that they are clearly communicated to customers?

I absolutely agree that the power resilience of our digital infrastructure is key to keeping people connected. As part of signing up to the voluntary charter, the main communication providers have promised to work towards providing more powerful back-up solutions that go beyond Ofcom’s minimum requirements. I have had multiple conversations with Ofcom on this matter. It is now consulting, with the aim of further strengthening the UK’s resilience on power cuts.

Rural connectivity remains a huge problem in my constituency. As the Secretary of State said, the charter has been introduced. However, it was introduced over a year into the process, when things had already gone wrong. What is she going to do to rectify that?

I would like to correct the hon. Member. The decision on the public switched telephone network was made by business, because of the problems with the existing copper lines and the fact that that, too, poses significant challenges. What we have done is take proactive steps by convening industry to ensure that they are going further than their existing commitments, and we have involved the regulator at every step.