A HIGHLAND councillor has expressed his fears over what support will be offered to vulnerable people in remote rural areas during power cuts after the old communications infrastructure is replaced by digital.

Craig Fraser said his preparations for power outages include two analogue phones, because digital will not function without electricity, but not everyone in the region is as well prepared.

He is concerned about vulnerable individuals in the council’s 25,659 square kilometre area, which has a population density of around eight people per sq km.

His concerns mounted after last week’s outages which have taken days to be resolved.

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Fraser told The National: “Digital phones will not work without electric supply, so when this happens I disconnect the digital phones and plug in the analogue ones.

“I can then make and receive calls when the power goes off. With everyone relying on full connectivity if you are a vulnerable person in a remote rural location when these lines are switched off and there is no power due to an outage, you are even more at risk.

“So the question would be what guarantees will [regulator] Ofcom or BT provide to ensure telephone connectivity in remote rural areas … what plan ‘B’ is in place?”

The current copper-wire phone system is 30 years old and is being retired by the industry as it is no longer fit for purpose.

BT said the UK would be the latest country to upgrade its network following Japan, Sweden, and Germany, who were all ahead of us in the rollout of digital home services with the “tried and tested” technology.

A spokesperson said: “We’ve been upgrading Scotland’s landlines to Digital Voice since last year and already thousands of customers are enjoying the benefits it brings, including high-definition calling.

“We’re rolling this upgrade out in a staggered way. Customers who only have a landline will not be upgraded to DV until the latter part of 2023, and will not have to take a broadband service unless they want it.

“We’re proud of the support we offer to our vulnerable customers. 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.”

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They said they would also be happy to arrange a briefing for Highland Council to bring them up to speed with the plans.

A spokesperson for Ofcom, added: “The switchover means that landline calls will be delivered through a broadband connection.

“Even the most basic connections should be able to carry calls, given the speed required to support them is very low.

“In the event of a power cut, our rules are clear that providers must identify customers who depend only on their landline, and make sure they can call the emergency services.

“That might mean by offering a mobile solution or battery back-up.”