For some of us, the memory of using a public phone box is a fairly distant one. With the rise of mobile phone usage over the past 20 years or so, there’s been a rapid decline in demand for phone boxes. But as guest author, Duncan, explains, for some communities, phone boxes are a lifeline.
In its wisdom, BT has decided to accelerate the decommissioning of phone boxes in areas where it deems they aren’t making much profit and where over 90% less usage has occurred in the past decade.
Surely the most hard hit in this drive will be those living in remote rural areas; particularly in the Scottish Highlands, mid Wales and many English country areas, where there are black spots for mobile phone coverage?
Rural phone boxes
In many rural areas, phone boxes are a lifeline when out and about as many residents either can’t get a signal or some may not be able to afford to own a mobile phone.
It must also be taken into consideration that many of those outlying areas are in mountainous regions where emergency services aren’t always within easy reach. Ofcom rules require BT to provide an ‘adequate provision of public call boxes to meet the reasonable needs of end users’. If BT choose to remove a phone box they must gain permission from the local council first, unless there’s another within 400 metres.
However, what would the reaction be if there’s a fatality on a mountain and a lack of a phone box meant no one was able to telephone emergency services? Campaigners in Wales have been fighting to save a red phone box in the Cambrian Mountains, the phone hasn’t worked for 18 months but is currently used as a shelter for ramblers. According to campaigners, mobile phone signal in the area is poor. So with only a few houses in the area and not another phone box for seven miles, this phone box is considered a lifeline.
But, it isn’t just mountainous areas where this could be a problem – you also have to rely on a phone box in flat moorland parts of England as often there is next to no mobile phone signal.
Future of phone boxes
In recent years, the government has pushed for more mobile phone coverage by private companies in areas where there is little or no signal, but progress has been pretty slow.
This coincides with BT’s seemingly accelerated programme to reduce Britain’s reliance on public communications. For example, under BT’s plans, Scotland would be left with around 3,300 phone boxes. While that sounds like a lot, just bear in mind the area they would have to cover – those without mobile phones or coverage would have to travel miles just to use the public phone.
And because a good proportion of those boxes set for decommission are the iconic red K series designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott from 1924, some people are arguing that BT is stripping the UK of its heritage.
Of course, where this is happening, BT is offering communities the opportunity to adopt their red phone box for £1, and many now house coffee machines, defibrillators and even a book exchange.
Even so, BT’s drive to decommission phone boxes has rightly caused great upset in local communities all over the UK, with local councillors complaining vigorously about it and determined to fight it.
Do you live in a remote area where a phone box is about to be decommissioned? Will you miss using a public pay phone, or do you no longer see the need for them?
This is a guest contribution by Which? Conversation Community Member, Duncan Lucas. All views expressed here are Duncan’s own and not necessarily those shared by Which?.