WITH the news that BT plan to phase out landline phones from all UK households by December 2025, a lot of people have got in touch with The Northern Echo to voice their concerns about the telecoms company altering their traditional service.

Instead of having the traditional landline, BT plan to replace this with a ‘Digital Voice’ device, which will be internet-enabled and will mean that every household in the UK will now need the internet.

From ‘what will happen now?’ to ‘why are BT doing this?’, here’s everything we know so far about the landline switch taking place over the next three years, as we try and answer all the questions about who will be affected, what it means for people in County Durham and further afield and what campaigners, politicians and regulators are doing to protect those most vulnerable.

Read more: BT face angry backlash from campaigners after axing landline phones

What is Digital Voice?

Digital Voice was announced by BT at the end of last year and will become the new home phone service in the future – meaning that everyone will be switched over to it soon.

In the UK, BT, and its contractor company Openreach, is currently in the process of upgrading their landline network to use Digital Voice technology. According to the telecoms company, this is their next-generation home phone service available at no extra cost at addresses with Digital Voice technology.

The main difference with Digital Voice is that you’ll need to upgrade to a new digital phone. This is provided free of charge when you sign up for Digital Voice, say BT. Alternatively, the company have highlighted that people can continue using their own phone, but you’ll need to plug it in at the back of an internet router instead of plugging it in at the wall.

The Northern Echo: 'Digital Voice' will require an internet connection and will be connected to wireless routers, according to BT. 'Digital Voice' will require an internet connection and will be connected to wireless routers, according to BT.

Why have BT decided to move to Digital Voice?

According to BT, they are using Digital Voice to make each household more connected and to deliver a ‘smart network’ to improve the quality of service throughout.

Digital Voice is their “next generation home phone service,” which, per reports, which will make it easier to connect with people at home and on the go.

Over the coming years, they’ll roll out their new home phone service to customers across the UK, with early indicators suggesting that they will provide a new phone at no extra cost to those that will be impacted by the changes.

Read more: These County Durham residents aren't happy about BT axing landlines

What does this mean for households in the UK?

This is dependent on how the phone is currently used at home. With many people using mobile phones and digital house phones anyway, some people might not see much difference with ‘Digital Voice’.

“Digital Voice will give you the same reliability, trust and familiarity of your current home phone service and it will enable new benefits and features, such as crystal-clear calls and the ability to block nuisance calls at the touch of a button,” according to BT.

However, this switch won’t be favoured by everyone – there will be more about this later in the article.

The Northern Echo: This new piece of technology puts reliance on digital calls at home and on the go, say BT.This new piece of technology puts reliance on digital calls at home and on the go, say BT.

Do people have to switch over to Digital Voice?

In short, yes. BT have said that they aim to switch all UK customers to ‘Digital Voice’ by December 2025. As far as ‘alternatives’ go, no one has suggested any form of alternative arrangement when it comes to the ‘digital landline’. The government have been quiet on the topic and haven’t imposed any measures on BT as a requirement about how they must roll-out the new scheme.

Despite continuing with ‘Digital Voice’, BT have highlighted that they’ll work with elderly and vulnerable residents across the country to make sure they are accommodated with the new technology.

Rural communities will also be investigated after it was confirmed that network coverage on the new digital landlines will be ‘patchy’ if the power goes out. Alternative methods for this will be to introduce battery packs and other chargers, according to BT.

The telecoms company have said that they’re “working to bring Digital Voice” to every household,” but they have acknowledged that “it’s not for everyone,” and has announced training, engineer briefings and help guides as a few ideas moving forward.

Read more: Concern for vulnerable over internet phone system

How much does Digital Voice cost?

The cost of the new Digital Voice and broadband service is all included in a single package price, say BT. This gives customers benefits like HD-quality calling along with extra features such as voicemail, call waiting, and call divert included at no extra cost.

How can people get Digital Voice if they want to switch?

BT are only offering Digital Voice in certain scenarios and areas to manage the number of customers moving over at one time but have pledged to notify customers when they can move over.

People can check online whether they’re eligible for ‘Digital Voice’ on the BT website and they will then be given the option to switch over if they want to.

The Northern Echo: Early reports suggest that there will be no extra costs involved when it comes to 'Digital Voice'.Early reports suggest that there will be no extra costs involved when it comes to 'Digital Voice'.

For people who have special services, like a monitored burglar alarm or health pendant, they’ll need to let the provider know they’ve moving over to Digital Voice.

At present, Digital Voice has rolled out to selected UK homes. People will be told they’re getting Digital Voice when ordering a BT Broadband plan, or they might be sent an invitation to move over by BT. The migration of all BT customers to use Digital Voice technology by the end of 2025 will enable them to switch off the older technology.

What have people said about ‘Digital Voice’ so far?

BT have moved to reassure customers that the transition to ‘Digital Voice’ will be “smooth” and will be done with care and caution.

A spokesperson for the company said: “We’re proud of the support we offer to our vulnerable customers. Since 2018 we’ve been working with alarm and health pendant providers, and many now have a solution which works on the new digital line.

Read more: BT creates 150 new jobs in Newcastle in EE call centre expansion

“If a customer is prone to power cuts and has no means of making a call in an emergency, then there are battery packs available which can power your equipment for over an hour. We’ll provide these for free for customers flagged as vulnerable on our system. If any customer has any concerns, they should speak to us and we’ll find a solution which works for them.”

However, not everyone has the same opinion.

Jan Shortt, general secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, says that this change will have a “disastrous” impact on elderly residents.

The Northern Echo: Campaigners and regulators have said that the 'Digital Voice' change will impact elderly residents and the most vulnerable.Campaigners and regulators have said that the 'Digital Voice' change will impact elderly residents and the most vulnerable.

She added: “If there is a power cut, this digital phone line will no longer work and a potential lifeline for elderly people will be suddenly lost.

“Those needing to make an emergency call or raise an alarm via a health pendant could be left stranded and unable to call anyone to ask for life-saving support.”

In a political capacity, little has been said by the government on the BT ‘Digital Voice’ switch. Similarly, this is the case across the board for MPs, who have also stayed silent on the issue.

The only exception is Labour MP for Bristol North West, Darren Jones MP, who is the chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Internet, Communications and Technology.

He said “Moving the UK to a digital phone network has obvious advantages, but it also risks cutting off the people that rely on their existing traditional landlines the most.

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