Telecommunications: Emergency Calls

Department for Science, Innovation and Technology written question – answered am ar 12 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Beith Lord Beith Deputy Chairman of Committees

To ask His Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to ensure that the withdrawal of copper wire land lines because of the roll out of full fibre does not leave some homes and schools without access to communication, emergency messages or 999 calls in the event of a power cut which disables both their home power and the power supply to local mobile phone masts.

Photo of Viscount Camrose Viscount Camrose Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Science, Innovation and Technology)

The analogue landline system, also known as the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) is a privately-owned telecoms network and the decision to upgrade it has been taken by the telecoms industry. The industry’s decision to upgrade the PSTN is due to necessity, as the network is increasingly unreliable and prone to failure, with some telecoms companies finding it difficult to source certain spare parts required to maintain or repair connections. Therefore, keeping customers on the ageing PSTN system presents risks in itself.

DSIT officials engage with Communications Providers on a regular basis to understand the plans they have in place for the transition. Ofcom, the UK’s telecommunications regulator, has also issued guidance on how telecoms companies should fulfil their regulatory obligations in the event of a power cut.

This guidance states that providers should have at least one solution available that enables access to emergency organisations for a minimum of one hour in the event of a power outage in the premises. These are minimum standards, and in practice many providers are offering solutions which exceed them, such as longer life battery back-up units, 4G enabled handsets or satellite enabled communication units. The DSIT Secretary of State also asked Ofcom to review the general resilience of telecommunications services in the event of prolonged power outages. In response, in December 2023, Ofcom launched a consultation on the resilience of the sector that includes a separate call for input on power backup for mobile radio access networks. The consultation stated that 65% of power outages lasted for less than 1 hour.

In December 2023, DSIT agreed a Charter of Commitments with the UK’s leading Communications Providers to secure additional commitments to protect vulnerable consumers through the transition process. As part of the Charter, Communication Providers have agreed to work towards going beyond the standard minimum of one hour resilience.

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