Ofcom has opened an investigation into Virgin Media over concerns about the telecoms firm’s compliance with rules to protect vulnerable customers during the switch from analogue to digital telephone landlines.
The regulator said it wanted to look into Virgin Media’s compliance in two areas: rules around taking necessary measures to ensure uninterrupted access for customers to emergency organisations, and rules on the fair treatment of vulnerable customers.
The telecoms industry is currently upgrading landline services to new digital technology using an internet connection, such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), Digital Voice or All-IP telephony.
Some concerns have been raised about the aspects of the transition, particularly how it could impact vulnerable people who use telecare alarm systems – emergency buttons which automatically call the emergency services when pressed via a user’s landline.
While telecare systems do work with digital landlines, a power cut or internet drop-out can cause them to fail, while copper phone lines typically continue to work even during power cuts.
In December, telecoms firms agreed to pause forcing customers on to the new digital phone network following a number of “serious incidents” involving the failure of personal telecare alarms.
“We have been clear with companies that they must, during this process, ensure they identify, protect and support vulnerable customers.
“A critically important function of the telephone network is to allow people, particularly vulnerable people, to contact the emergency services.
“Therefore, any action, or inaction, taken by communications providers which disrupts consumers’ ability to reach these services is of the utmost seriousness.”
The regulator said it would publish further information on the progress of the investigation in due course.
In response, a spokesperson for Virgin Media said: “We have been regularly updating and working closely with Ofcom and Government for many years as essential work takes place across the industry to safeguard voice networks for future.
“Last December we signed a Government-led charter and have paused all landline migrations, carried out an end-to-end review and will make further improvements to the measures we already have in place before switchovers restart.
“While telecoms companies like us have a crucial role to play in this switchover activity, it’s essential that telecare companies and local authorities also step up and meet their responsibilities to ensure everyone receives the support they need.
“We’re co-operating fully with the regulator’s investigation and will continue to work closely with the rest of the industry and other parties.”