Consumers in rural Scotland are more likely to be at risk of harm as UK telephone landlines go digital, a new report has found.
The current UK traditional telephone network is reaching the end of its life and needs to be upgraded.
By the end of 2025, most people currently using a traditional landline will be migrated to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology – which uses a broadband internet connection instead of a standard telephone line.
For most customers, switching to VoIP should be straightforward and they will continue to receive what they recognise as a traditional phone service.
However, unlike traditional corded analogue phones, a digital phone will only work in a power cut if it has a battery back-up.
In addition to landline voice calls, some consumers may be still reliant on traditional networks for services or additional devices such as care alarms, door entry or CCTV systems or fax machines.
New analysis by Consumer Scotland of data produced by research carried out by the Communications Consumer Panel (CCP) has found a higher proportion of consumers in rural Scotland are likely to be vulnerable to the effects of the switchover to VoIP than in other parts of Scotland or the UK as a whole.
This is due to a number of factors including:
- Consumers in rural areas are more likely to rely on their landline for calls with 69% of households in accessible rural and 78% of households in remote rural Scotland using a landline for making calls. This compares to 62% in Scotland as a whole and 59% across the UK
- A lower percentage of respondents in accessible rural and remote rural areas in Scotland report being able to make a call from a mobile phone from anywhere in their house (63% and 58% respectively) compared to respondents in Scotland and the UK as a whole (81% and 84% respectively)
- Consumers in rural areas are more likely to experience power cuts and these power cuts tend to be of longer duration. 87% of consumers in accessible rural parts of Scotland, and 96% of consumers in remote rural areas reported having experienced a power cut in the past two years, compared to 67% of respondents in Scotland and 64% of respondents in the UK
- Consumers in remote rural parts of Scotland are around twice as likely as consumers elsewhere in Scotland to have additional devices attached to their landline, with all respondents in rural parts of Scotland considering their additional devices to be important
Consumers who are 65 years and older and those with low levels of digital literacy are also more vulnerable to the effects of the digital switchover.
Consumer Scotland policy officer Kathryn Gill said:
“The combination of a higher likelihood of power cuts and greater reliance on landlines in rural Scotland - for both calls and attached devices - suggests that proportionally more consumers in these areas could be vulnerable due to the switchover with a risk that they do not have adequate back-up provision.
“The higher percentage of respondents in accessible rural and remote rural Scotland who want to use their landline in an emergency further highlights the potential vulnerability of consumers living in these areas when considering how they might make emergency phone calls during a power cut.
“Research on communications services in remote and rural areas by the CCP has found that some rural and remote communities remain without reliable, robust digital connectivity. Consumer Scotland agrees with the CCP that there is a need for urgent engagement around the migration to VoIP. The transition must be informed by the needs and requirements of rural communities.
“The migration to VoIP must be handled carefully to protect the safety of consumers in the event of power cuts and we want to see awareness campaigns targeted towards those at most risk of harm due to this change. This includes those aged 65 years and older, people with low levels of digital literacy, people living in rural locations and people with an additional device connected to their phone line.
“The regulator Ofcom should also work with communications providers to ensure they have sufficient awareness of these potential vulnerabilities and are taking sufficient steps to assess the risks that consumers face during the transition.”
Consumer Scotland’s analysis is based on a 2023 survey by the Communications Consumer Panel with a sample size of 6,117, including a Scottish sample of 808 segmented by rurality for a number of questions.
They also conducted research on communications services in rural and remote communities across the UK.
Established under the Consumer Scotland Act 2020, Consumer Scotland is a Non-Ministerial Office, independent from government and accountable to the Scottish Parliament.