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Oxfordshire villagers hit out at problems caused by phone lines 'rotting in the ground'

Thursday, April 2nd 2015 by Ellen Branagh

Residents of an Oxfordshire village have hit out at “antiquated” telephone infrastructure that is leaving them plagued by landline problems.

Paul Phillipson, who has spoken previously to Cable.co.uk about his village’s continuing battle for superfast broadband, said Fernham also suffers from persistent phone line problems.

In one example, an international conference call was interrupted by an elderly lady’s phone conversation with her doctor, in which she unwittingly revealed her personal details to all 30 people listening.

Mr Phillipson, who works from home as a telecoms consultant, said BT Openreach engineers are regularly called out to the village – part of digital minister Ed Vaizey’s constituency of Didcot & Wantage – to “patch up” its decaying phone lines.

“Many villagers have had phone and internet problems for years,” he said. "The infrastructure is very old, it’s decaying rapidly and needs replacement."

He said the village suffers from unresolved landline issues similar to those experienced by Dorothy Miller, who Cable.co.uk reported suffered a landline fault for five years until BT moved her to a new number last week.

“We have had persistent crossed lines, including very private calls to the doctor etc, high levels of line noise when it rains,” said Mr Phillipson.

“We get the same runaround as Mrs Miller; that tired old BT script designed to waste a lot of time for no result.”

'Antiquated infrastructure'

Mr Phillipson said the ageing infrastructure is “rotting in the ground”, with engineers fixing each problem as it arises.

“All of them say that it really needs replacing. They dig bits of cable and replace it from time to time. They just keep patching up what is really antiquated technology.”

One example of the problems was a crossed line on an international conference call that Mr Phillipson's partner Melissa Burton was hosting.

“There were 30 people on the call from across Europe, the USA and China when an elderly lady from the village could be heard calling her doctor," he said, adding that neither the lady nor the surgery could hear the conference call.

“A few minutes after that, the same lady called her housing association. In both cases the lady gave personal information not knowing she could be overheard.”

Ms Burton terminated the call, re-joining by mobile, and they complained to BT, he said.

The telecoms firm said it had fixed the issue, but Mr Phillipson said they had suffered crossed lines since, and had stopped using the landline for business.

“The dilapidated, antiquated infrastructure needs replacing but BT refuse,” he added.

'A real challenge'

Fellow Fernham resident Mark Heath suffered with crossed lines and and bad static on his phone line for four years until it was finally fixed after he contacted BT CEO Gavin Patterson direct.

“I had several engineer visits over a 12-month period, however, no fault could be located and I was charged £120 I believe twice for this,” he said.

Mr Heath moved to PlusNet for a year, not realising it used the same infrastructure, then returned to BT after suffering the same issues for 12 months.

On one occasion, he was told by BT’s helpline that he had spoken directly to an engineer the local exchange – despite the fact that Mr Heath was stood at the same exchange with no sign of an engineer present.

Angry at the lack of assistance, he emailed Mr Patterson directly, voicing his frustrations, and said within 24 hours he had seven engineers at his house.

Since then he has enjoyed a mostly clear line, apart from one “hiccup” when he was disconnected after his line was accidentally given to another property.

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