The independent organisation for senior citizens, Silver Voices, has strongly criticised the potential failings attached to BT’s contentious roll out of their Digital Voice programme.
BT proudly claim:
‘As your household becomes more connected, we’re bringing all our technologies together onto one smart network to improve the quality of the service you get from us. Digital Voice is our next generation home phone service.’
Silver Voices hit back, stating:
BT RENEGES ON DIGITAL VOICE DEAL WITH OLDER PEOPLE
‘BT resumed its mass roll out of the controversial Digital Voice programme, to remove all copper wire landlines by 2025 and replace them with an internet-based telephone system, in the Spring of this year. The roll out started in the East Midlands and is about to move to Yorkshire and Humberside. Silver Voices withdrew its earlier opposition to the programme on the basis of a deal to safeguard the interests of older customers, who rely on their landlines for essential and emergency contacts, until reliable new technology and products are widely available. A crucial part of that deal was that no customer over 70 would be switched over during the next 12 months (unless they wanted to voluntarily opt-in). A poll of Silver Voices members supported this deal.
Silver Voices was recently informed that in the East Midlands, as a “trial”, this age limit has been raised to 75 for some customers. We demanded assurances that all over 70s’ customers in the East Midlands and elsewhere were being advised that they did not have to switch over if they were uncomfortable with the pace of the transition, or for other reasons.
At a meeting with senior BT Executives, Silver Voices Director Dennis Reed was assured that over 70s had been so advised, a claim which later turned out to be untrue. BT has also declined to make clear in the future that the switch over is voluntary for the over 70s at this stage of the programme. BT has claimed that this change has the support of its in-house Digital Voice Advisory Group, which is dominated by BT insiders but co-chaired by Age UK.
Silver Voices led the campaign of protests against Digital Voice last year. Our concerns included:
The loss of landlines for older people who rely on them for essential contacts and who do not wish to pay for broadband.
As the new system relies on a power supply, concerns over back-up systems in the event of power cuts, particularly where mobile signals are weak.
The compatibility of telecare and emergency call-out systems with Digital Voice.
Possible extra costs.
Opportunities for scammers.
Silver Voices was assured that a landline-only option would be available next year, which would not require the customer to take out a wider broadband package from BT, and the one-year delay in switching the over 70s was based on the development of this, and other products, for vulnerable customers.
BT has been advised that Silver Voices is withdrawing its support for the whole Digital Voice programme because of this “breach of faith”. If it is true that Age UK has supported this change of policy, without consulting its supporters, then the charity is failing in its responsibilities towards older people.
The deadline of 2025 for the removal of all copper landlines is untenable as the measures to support vulnerable customers have still not been developed. There is no reason why the two systems should not work in parallel for at least five years, so that everyone continues to have access to a reliable landline, until proven new technology is in place. The target was agreed between the telecom giants and the Government, but there is no need for this ‘Big Bang’ approach.’
31 August 2023