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Community / Stronger protection for public phone boxes

There are 47 payphone in Shetland within 400 metres of the coastline. Photo © Mike Pennington (cc-by-sa/2.0)

MANY of Shetland’s under-used, neglected and abandoned payphones may receive a new lease of life after regulator Ofcom brought in stronger protection for essential phone boxes.

Changes brought in earlier this week mean that phone boxes will be safeguarded against removal if they are needed by the community or provide an essential service in areas with a poor mobile signal.

There is also a commitment to protect payphones in coastal areas. In Shetland there are 47 within 400 metres of the coastline.

BT said it had generally protected coastal payphones as a voluntary commitment and the new regulations could mean that it would not be possible to remove a payphone after consulting with local authorities.

A spokesperson said the company is carrying out maintenance visits at its boxes in Shetland and will repair any that are out of order.

There are 64 operational payphones in Shetland, and they will all have had a visit from maintenance teams.

There are no plans to reinstate public payphones that have been removed.

The BT spokesperson said: “We will now review the specific changes and any impact this will have on the payphone service we offer.

“BT takes its regulatory obligations seriously in providing a public payphone service and will adhere to Ofcom’s new guidelines around the removal of any phone boxes.”

The changes to the telephony universal service obligation in relation to public call boxes can be found here.

Isles MP Alistair Carmichael said rather than maintaining phone boxes BT should invest more in its mobile network.

“I was brought up in the age when people actually used phone boxes. I think with every year that passes it becomes more difficult to sustain them, because you see the number of people who are actually using them,” he said.

“The public have kind of voted with their feet. So what you need to be doing is improving the mobile networks – the Shared Rural Network for example makes perfect sense.”

The BT spokesperson added: “We also welcome Ofcom’s proposals around the greater flexibility on payphone removals as we look to replace a proportion of our traditional payphone network in urban areas with our next generation Street Hub units.

“These are bringing wide ranging benefits to communities, including free ultrafast WiFi and landline calls, access to 999 and charity help lines, advertising for local businesses and air quality monitoring.”