Residents in remote parts of Northumberland call for return of old-fashioned landlines

Modern technology isn’t for everyone – just ask some residents in upper Coquetdale.
Hepple, near Rothbury.Hepple, near Rothbury.
Hepple, near Rothbury.

BT Openreach is in the process of shutting down the old fashioned copper wire telephone network and replacing it with a fibre optic broadband network.

But the work has left residents in some remote communities around Rothbury without any phone capability in recent storm blackouts.

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Now, Hepple Parish Council is calling for BT to restore residents’ copper wire landlines.

Chrissie Buckley, a parish councillor, explained: “We were left without phone capability for several days during Storm Arwen, as were others in the area like us whose landlines have already been converted to Digital Voice which requires an internet connection to work.

"There is no mobile signal here, and we were not even able to get a 999 network.

"BT will do nothing to restore our landlines even though there are vulnerable people who could need urgent access to emergency services. It’s a pretty serious situation to be in.”

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She has been supplied with an emergency battery but complained that it only lasted just over an hour.

Margaret Turner, who lives near Thropton, added: “We have lived here a long time and are well used to odd power cuts and are well prepared for them.

"Last May BT sent me a new hub. I followed the instructions – as you do – little realising that in a blackout there would now be no landline.

“I am sick of being offered various solutions - all of which need electricity or a mobile signal which we do not have here.

"It is now frightening every time there is heavy wind.”

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Berwick MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan said: “I am concerned that for those on the newer VOIP telephone lines, the backup battery systems supplied by their telecoms provider would not be sufficient to allow them to seek assistance should they need it, in the event that power was off for an extended period of time, as we saw with Storm Arwen. I am especially worried about those who live alone or without neighbours or a support system nearby.

"I am arranging a meeting with the minister, Julia Lopez, to ensure those who are more vulnerable are able to make emergency calls in the event of a power outage once the full switch to digital landline systems has been made.

"I am not convinced that telecoms companies are fulfilling their obligations at present, and that must be rectified before the switch is made.”

A BT spokesperson said: “We’re incredibly sorry to our customers in Hepple who were disconnected as a result of the storms late last year. We’re working really hard with those affected to resolve their concerns.

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“We’ve looked into mobile signal in Hepple and there are plans to introduce better coverage for the community in the future. We recognise the move to Digital Voice is a concern for a small amount of people who believe they are in a coverage not-spot or a high-risk power cut area. If a customer is marked as vulnerable on our systems, we will pause their upgrade and will work with them to resolve the issue.”