To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what steps his Department has taken to help people without a broadband connection prepare for the closure of the public switched telephone network in 2025.
14 September 2021
The Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) is privately owned, and the process for its closure is industry-led. The PSTN closure will be undertaken in a phased approach with areas shutting down over the coming years with the final exchange expected to turn off in 2025.
While PSTN withdrawal is an industry-led process, the Government and Ofcom are working together to ensure consumers and sectors are protected and prepared for the withdrawal process.
The PSTN network will be replaced with new All-IP technology - such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). This technology is higher quality and more reliable than the existing PSTN network and will guarantee a better quality of service. All-IP requires a stable internet connection of approximately 0.5Mbps. Where it is not possible to deliver such a service to a premise, the service provider will be required to offer an alternative technological solution - such as Single Order Generic Ethernet Access (SoGEA).
Ofcom has a statutory duty to further and protect the interest of consumers, including those who are vulnerable. As part of this duty, Ofcom has rules in place, known as general conditions, which all providers must follow, that mandate communication providers to have procedures and policies in place to identify and support vulnerable consumers.
Ofcom has also published a Vulnerability Guide for providers, setting out their expectations and good practice on how vulnerable telecoms consumers should be supported. This includes steps providers can take to identify vulnerable consumers, and an expectation that all providers implement specialist teams in order to provide extra support.
The telecoms industry - via the Broadband Stakeholder Group - have been collaborating on this issue, and in June 2020 launched a consumer-facing website as a resource to inform the public of the process. This website was developed with the support of telecoms companies, Ofcom and DCMS and is funded by TechUK. (https://www.futureofvoice.co.uk/)
If an individual is concerned about the PSTN withdrawal process, or would like further information, they should contact their telecoms service provider who will be able to provide specific support.