Scottish Liberal Democrat and Shetland’s MSP Beatrice Wishart has welcomed the announcement of a pause in the BT Digital Voice Programme, moving landline phones from copper cables that are powered through their own connection to digital broadband lines which require household power supply.
Shetland was scheduled to be switched under the Digital Voice programme by 2025 despite the delayed timetabled rollout of high-speed broadband connections in the isles not being set for completion until 2026/27.
In the aftermath of the Strom Arwen at the end of last year Wishart raised the issue that many in the North East of Scotland had already been switched under the scheme but found that after Arwen had hit they were unable to use their landline due to a lack of power and broadband connection. Many were left without connection to the outside world for days while efforts to reconnect power were underway.
Speaking after the decision to pause the programme Ms Wishart said:
“I am pleased that the Digital Voice programme has been paused. It is concerning that the issue of households being without power and connections to the outside world was not considered more closely before the programme was launched.
“Remote, rural and island communities rely on robust communication. Shetland was in the strange situation of being timetabled to be switched under the Digital Voice by 2025 when the infrastructure for high-speed broadband’s delayed timetable date is 2026/27. I haven’t yet been given a clear answer as to how that circle would be squared.
“What is clear is that Shetland is not yet ready for this change. Apart from power cuts, areas with no broadband or mobile signal would be impacted, along with anyone relying on a landline for use of a health alarm. I hope that this pause does not delay other roll-outs such as the high-speed broadband connections we have long waited for, and I also hope the pause allows for reflection and answers to some of the open questions before Shetland is switched.”