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The phone box at Luccombe .. a vital lifeline

MP welcomes plan to save rural telephone boxes

A MOVE to safeguard more than 5,000 red telephone boxes has been welcomed by MP Ian Liddell-Grainger who says it will come as a huge reassurance for families in rural areas.

The communications regulator Ofcom is proposing clearer and stronger rules which could prevent further sweeping reductions in the number of public payphones.

As part of the move to digital phone lines, BT is currently assessing which call boxes are no longer needed and can be decommissioned. But Ofcom says under the current protocols some that are still needed by local communities risk being withdrawn.

New safeguards

So now it is proposing a new set of safeguards which would stop BT removing a call box if its location is not already covered by all four mobile networks; or if it is located at an accident or suicide blackspot.

A phone box would also qualify for protection if still used on average more than once a week or if there are other exceptional circumstances.

Mr Liddell-Grainger, MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset, said he was delighted with Ofcom’s new criteria.

I have a classic case in my own constituency: Luccombe, an Exmoor village where there is no mobile coverage yet where the village has had to fight tooth and nail to retain its red phone box,” he said.

In deciding which boxes can be removed without causing too much inconvenience BT appears to be making some strange assumptions.

It seems to use the telecoms industry’s own statistics for levels of mobile coverage as a yardstick even though in the past these have been highly optimistic and considerably at odds with reality.

Healthy profits

It probably costs far more to maintain these boxes and the lines to them than can ever be economically justified, but on the other hand BT is making pretty healthy profits on its other activities and should be able to absorb them without too much pain.

And we are not just talking about money here: we are talking about a public service and we are talking about critical situations such as accidents, fires and other emergencies where an old-fashioned red phone box can still make all the difference between life and death.

I am very pleased Ofcom has listened to what I and other rural MPs have been saying and has recognised the merits of maintaining at least a skeleton network of public payphones.”

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