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Roll-out of digital phones system in Aberdeenshire paused after thousands lose power during storms

Concerns were raised about the resilience of the digital system in the even of power cuts
Concerns were raised about the resilience of the digital system in the even of power cuts

BT has announced it will pause the roll-out of its digital phones system in Aberdeenshire after “underestimating” the impact it would have on “certain customer groups”.

The “huge disruption” caused by recent storms highlighted that a broadband-only connection would completely cut-off many people.

Early adopters to BT’s Digital Voice service lost their power and phone access for two weeks after Storm Arwen in November.

The new service requires customers to connect their handset to their broadband router, rather than plugging their phone into a wall-mounted phone socket.

It needs both broadband and power to work.

All home phone users – with any provider – will need to be upgraded to a digital system by 2025.

However, BT has now said they went ahead with the move “too early”, and have more work to do on improving back-up options in the case of major disruptions.

The telecommunications company has apologised saying they got this part of the programme “wrong”.

News welcomed by MPs

North-east MP Andrew Bowie met with BT representatives on Monday, where he was told the switch would be paused until “failsafe measures are in place”.

Mr Bowie said: “This is a victory for the vulnerable. Those who were most affected by the communication blackout will be delighted to hear that their message has been received and that improvements are going to be made.

“Pausing the rollout is the right thing to do until all the issues that Storm Arwen brought to our attention are resolved.

“It is vital that elderly and vulnerable residents have the confidence and assurance that they will not be cut off like this again, and that BT and others will be far more responsive in future.”

Mr Bowie received a commitment that the switch would be paused. Supplied by Andrew Bowie MP.

Gordon MP Richard Thomson had also raised concerns about the switch to broadband calls and said the pause was “sensible”.

He added: “Storm Arwen threw up many challenges due to the length of time some people were left isolated without power. Had there also been no landline communications available then a bad situation would undoubtedly have been made much worse.

“Many of my constituents have felt anxious about the reliability of the telecoms network and how it will manage in the future given recent experiences as a result of the recent storms.”

Petition highlighted concerns

More than 3,000 people signed a petition last month calling for a pause to the roll-out of digital communications.

Aboyne, Upper Deeside and Upper Donside councillor Geva Blackett, who launched the petition, highlighted that although the new system may improve connections, it is fragile in the face of extreme weather.

Hundreds of thousands of people were left without power following the number of severe storms that have hit the UK sine November. Rural areas in Aberdeenshire and the Highlands were among the worst affected with many cut-off for days.

Geva Blackett launched the petition, which gathered 3,000 signatures.

A BT spokesman said: “Further to recent feedback, we’ve taken the decision to pause the major rollout of our Digital Voice programme.

“It’s clear from what some customers are telling us that we underestimated the impact this technology upgrade would have on certain customer groups. We got it wrong by going too early, and for this we’re sorry.

“We’ll aim to restart the programme, once we’re more confident that the right products and solutions are in place that will provide more resilient connectivity.

“The upgrade of the rapidly ageing analogue landline phones is a critical national industry programme that carries very important and significant long-term benefits for the UK.

“Digitising the UK’s future is a crucial mission for the industry, and we’re determined to get it right.”

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