FEARS that widespread digitalisation which will ditch traditional landline phone systems will alienate pensioners when the national scheme imminently heads to the borough have been downplayed by telecommunications bosses.

BT Openreach’s move comes as part of an industry-wide shift from analogue, copper-based platforms to digital landlines where calls are made over a broadband line and will see firms make the full switch by the end of 2025.

In the latest round of ‘Digital Voice’ switch-over work, Penistone has been named as an area which will be next in line.

It’s drawn scepticism from local leaders, who have voiced concern over the area’s higher-than-average population of elderly residents and the issues found elsewhere in the country where work has already occurred which left elderly customers without phone access or lifesaving alarms.

Coun Hannah Kitching, who represents Penistone West, said: “It’s concerning as there’s a large population of elderly residents in the community who often aren’t as tech-savvy as the younger generation.

“Landlines are often people’s only form of contacting family and friends, but if the internet goes down it’s obviously a huge problem.

“Penistone’s on the list for the next phase but I’d have hoped there would have been a better consultation phase.

“The area has many outlying villages such as Dunford Bridge and Ingbirchworth.

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“Some homes remain unconnected to the internet whilst others have voiced worries about times when the internet goes offline.

“We need answers to many questions.”

Last year, regulator Ofcom raised concerns over the programme, warning BT did not have enough measures in place to support vulnerable customers in a power cut if they needed to call 999 because digital phones must be plugged into an electricity socket to work, and do not function in a power cut.

BT has started offering ‘free’ £85 battery packs to those most in need if there is a power cut so they do not lose contact, but batteries will not help if the internet itself also goes down because the phone relies on the digital connection.

The telecoms giant suggests that if there is a power cut or their broadband goes down, ‘customers should use their mobile as an alternative, if able’.

James Lilley, Openreach’s customer migrations manager, allayed concerns and said the changeover was essential.

He added: “Digital Voice will have no impact on how BT customers use their home phone and will not cost any more than customers pay today.

“The ageing copper wires that have kept our homes connected for years are gradually being replaced by new fibre cables.

“We’re moving to a digital world and Openreach is helping with that transformation by rolling out ultra-fast, ultra-reliable and future-proofed digital full fibre across the UK.This game-changing technology will become the backbone of our economy for decades to come, supporting every aspect of our public services, businesses, industries and daily lives.

“Customers risk facing increased service outages if this urgent infrastructure upgrade isn’t carried out now.”