Protecting customers during the migration to digital landlines


INSIGHT
Published
Dec 18th '23
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The technology that we currently use to make landline phone calls is being switched off over the next few years.

 

Landline phone calls have traditionally been delivered over a network known as the public switched telephone network (PSTN). This network is old, and becoming harder and more expensive to maintain, so telecoms companies have decided it needs to be replaced. The change is happening all over the world and will make sure we continue to have reliable home phone services.

 

There have been some concerns about how this process might affect customers – particularly those who might be vulnerable.

 

Ofcom has been clear with telecoms providers that they must minimise disruption and identify, protect and support vulnerable customers during the migration from analogue to digital landlines. They’ve been keeping a close eye on progress, including publishing industry guidance and stepping in to remind companies of their obligations. Most recently, sought explicit assurances from firms last month about their approach to supporting people who rely on telecare alarms.

 

Ofcom continue to monitor the situation closely, including attending regular meetings dedicated to this issue with industry. They won’t hesitate to launch enforcement action against any provider that fails to fulfil their obligations to customers.

 

Action Ofcom has taken to help protect consumers

They’ve taken steps to help make sure customers face minimal disruption and are protected from harm.

 

  • Published guidance on protecting customers’ access to emergency services during a power cut. This requires providers to provide a minimum of one hour’s power resilience to consumers in the event of a power cut. If consumers need to use their landline to call the emergency services, this must be provided free of charge.
  • Set out expectations of communications providers in relation to PSTN switchover. This set out how they  should support and protect customers, particularly those who are vulnerable, and included specific provisions on customers who use services such as telecare devices.
  • Published best practice principles for the upgrade process, which includes detailed requirements including support for vulnerable customers, and battery back-up.
  • Provided information for consumers on Ofcom’s website, which is continually updated.

 

Wider provisions for vulnerable customers

In addition, protecting vulnerable customers is a priority for Ofcom. So, expectations for providers in relation to vulnerable customers also apply to PSTN switch-off. The rules for providers require them to ‘establish, publish and comply with clear and effective policies and procedures for the fair and appropriate treatment of consumers whose circumstances may make them vulnerable’.

 

Ofcom has also published Treating Vulnerable Customers Fairly guide in 2020 and updated it in September 2022. This guide suggests measures telecoms providers can adopt to make sure they treat vulnerable customers fairly, and these expectations also apply to the PSTN switch-off process.

 

Monitoring and reporting on progress

As well as setting standards, since 2019 Ofcom has closely monitored providers’ progress on PSTN switchover. They collect data from each provider and meet each of them on a quarterly basis to discuss their progress.

 

Source: Office of Communications (Ofcom)

 

About Ofcom 

Ofcom is the regulator for the communications services that we use and rely on each day.

 

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