Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, has today called for government assurances that islanders will not be “left cut off” in the event of power outages after the planned shutdown of the copper wire network. Mr Carmichael raised concerns shared by islanders about the planned network changes, with most of the copper wire network planned to be closed by the end of 2025.
During power outages in Shetland in December 2022, some properties were left without power for as long as six days. The replacement “Voice over Internet Protocol” (VoIP) system only has a resilience of one hour using a backup battery with Openreach, and relies on a broadband connection.
Speaking in the House, Mr Carmichael said:
“Last year some of my constituents in Shetland were without electricity for six days. Moving to Voice over Internet, they will have a resilience of one hour. What assurance can the minister give me that my constituents will not be left cut off without communications after the copper network is withdrawn?”
Responding for the government
“The decision to migrate to Voice over Internet is one for the industry but nevertheless we are following this very carefully. Ofcom has regular discussions and I have been meeting Ofcom.
“He is right; we need to make absolutely certain that vulnerable consumers are protected. Ofcom will be ensuring that providers do give backup in the event of power outage, and it will be their duty to ensure that is sufficient.”
Reacting after the exchange Mr Carmichael said:
“That response is just not good enough and will be cold comfort to those left cut off in the future. This is the definition of an issue which cannot simply be left to industry. Without intervention businesses are always going to put rural and island communities at the back of the queue – that cannot be acceptable.
“This issue is not going away so ministers and Ofcom are going to have to improve their answers. We need a proper plan to maintain resilience in future, whatever happens to the copper network.”