Ofcom rules in favour of protecting phone boxes in areas with bad signals
Ofcom has brought new rules into force to safeguard public phone boxes from removal in areas that suffer from a poor mobile signal.
The rules replace the previous process for removing payphones, which risked removal in locations where they were still required.
Phone boxes will be protected if they are in areas without coverage from all four networks, see a high frequency of accidents and suicides, have been used to make at least
52 calls in the past year, or where there is other evidence that a box is needed at a site –such as where it is being used to making calls to Childline.
Under the rules, BT and Hull-based provider KCOM must also consult with local authorities on the removal of boxes that are the last ones remaining in an area.
Ofcom estimates that at least 1,400 phone boxes are in areas without good mobile coverage.
The regulator’s move comes despite the sharp decline in use of phone boxes, with call time dwindling from around 800 million minutes in 2002 to four million in 2021 to 2022. In the past few years, BT has been decommissioning payphones in areas where it assessed they were no longer needed.
“You may think of a phone box as a local landmark, or as a landmark symbol of British nostalgia,” said Ofcom director of connectivity Selina Chadha.
“But they can still serve as a vital lifeline – perhaps to call a helpline or the emergency services – when no other options are available.
“Our new rules will ensure that many thousands of phone boxes will be protected for as long as they are needed, as well as supporting the rollout of new street hubs with free WiFi and charging for people on the go.”