Carmichael secures concessions on copper wire network shutdown

13 Dec 2023

Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, has today welcomed concessions made by the Minister for Data and Digital Infrastructure, John Whittingdale MP, on changes to the copper wire telecommunications network. During a debate Mr Carmichael secured in Parliament, the MP highlighted a range of concerns raised by constituents about the changes, and the impact on vulnerable people and overall resilience. Mr Carmichael cited a range of examples, including responses during recent Digital Forums held in the isles.

In his response, the minister noted that “despite the assurances that we were given by communications operators, we have recently become aware of serious incidents of telecare users finding that their devices have failed when trying to activate them”. The minister also stated that the government have paused forced migrations from the old network, that they have contacted Ofcom to review arrangements, and will hold a roundtable this week with industry to discuss support for vulnerable consumers.

Speaking after the debate, Mr Carmichael said:

“This was a timely and indeed productive debate. Having been somewhat unimpressed with the minister’s answers on this issue in the Chamber some weeks ago I am glad that he has embraced the urgency of the problems with the copper wire switchover – and is starting to take action.

“It was a full and detailed response and made it clear that having taken stock of the situation the government is taking it more seriously. Action on a roundtable with industry and engagement with Ofcom is welcome.

“The minister’s frank admission that telecommunications companies have not lived up to their obligations to vulnerable customers should give some cause for alarm. It reinforces my view that this cannot be left to the market, and that the regulator and the government must take a strong hand to ensure fairness and security.

“I am still concerned, however, about the nature of resilience under the new system when it comes. It is easy enough to assert that an hour or two of battery time for calls is sufficient when we talk about places where power cuts are both brief and rare. It is quite another matter when they are severe and prolonged. I do not want us to discover too late that the resilience we expect is no longer the resilience that we get.”

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