Event roundup: Digital phone switchover - preparing local authorities
techUK hosted an event on 8 November 2022 to help local authorities understand the implications of the digital phone switchover and give them the opportunity to share best practise and discuss overcoming challenges to enable a seamless switchover.
Sarah Shepherd, Digital Phone Switchover Head at techUK, opened the event by highlighting that the telecoms sector recognised the challenges that some may face during the switchover and were working together to raise awareness and ensure consistency in messaging to reduce the potential for confusion.
We were joined by over 100 attendees from across local authorities, telecoms companies and local authority suppliers as well as Government and Ofcom. techUK convened speakers from across government, regulation and industry, as well as local government from across the nations and regions.
The role of government
Our first panel covered the rationale behind the closure and the respective roles of Government and Ofcom in the migration program. Whilst there has been progress since the initial announcement in 2017 that the network would be switched off in December 2025, there remains a lot to be done. The panellists emphasised the importance of communicating needs and contacting them with queries and BT highlighted the work that they had undertaken since the temporary pause on their managed migration program. DCMS offered to function as a convenor of sectors and will be establishing a webpage soon to give suppliers a trusted, neutral source to direct enquiries to and prevent raised concerns about scamming and lack of easily accessible to information. (contact details given at the event can be found below)
Local government perspective
Panel 2 looked at some of the services local authorities provide that may be affected, how communication providers work with Councils and the approach being taken by Liverpool City Council. Whilst the transition offers up opportunities for new digital products, local authorities in the room remain concerned about the cost implications. Local authorities have limited resources, but it was outlined that they are well placed to identify products and services affected. There were spirited calls for Ofcom and DCMS to agree on a national data sharing programme and to help local authorities with the transition.
Telecare: Best practise from other nations
Panel 3 focussed on telehealth and social care. The NHS Transformation Directorate will shortly be publishing their Stakeholder Action Plan and establishing a helpdesk to aid the transition. There was a recognition of opportunity with digital expanding the range of functions that adult social care can undertake. Wales offered some success stories where a few Alarm Response Centres (ARCs) had fully transitioned to digital. More information can be found here. In Scotland, standardised information through the Digital Playbook on telecare had proved helpful although supply chain issues are hampering the full migration to digital kit and services. Data sharing and identifying telecare users remains a work in progress.
The final panel was dedicated to communications and concluded the PSTN switch off requires a different style of campaign to the digital TV switch off. Any campaign should be public awareness-based but understand that consumers will have to identify themselves what services they use that will need to change. An Australian-style awareness approach was cited as a great way of delivering this agreed need for focused awareness. A public-interest campaign was seen as being in the best interests of citizens and local authorities’ status as a trusted local voice was highlighted as a crucial part of this. Research from Openreach shows that customers - once aware of the switchover - are receptive to the move. GMCA pointed out that whilst there were challenges posed, including resilience concerns, the switchover also offered up positives including around digital inclusion. There were calls for Government to be more visible and play a greater role in raising awareness and acceptance of the switchover.
An industry together approach
The overarching themes that ran through the event were the importance of collaboration and communication in helping to work through some of the challenges identified. Local authorities are invited to work with their service and communication providers to prepare for the move and secure the necessary products and services and communications providers frequently asked local authorities to get in touch with them. It was pointed out that a single point of contact within the Council would be of great benefit for the telecoms sector. Collaboration on data sharing, possibly facilitated by government, would allow easier identification of telecare customers affected by the switch off and allow best practice on their subsequent migration.
The convening abilities of techUK and DCMS were highlighted as vital for making the transition as smooth as possible with Government invited to take a greater role in raising awareness and validating the switchover. Speakers from communications providers urged attendees to contact them via Openreach, TalkTalk test lab and Virgin Media’s enquiry emails and to visit the Openreach, Virgin Media, Openreach equipment test lab, Virgin Media O2 equipment test lab websites. DCMS also have an enquiry email and Ofcom a consumer information website.
Collaboration and communication and a greater role played by Government were seen as key to unblocking some of the barriers to switchover and allowing the full opportunities of digital to be fully opened up to local authorities. Any questions about this event, or about the wider digital phone switchover, should be sent to Sarah Shepherd.
techUK welcomes the chance to play our role in the ‘industry together’ approach the switchoff requires
Watch a full recording of the event below: