Thousands of payphones across the UK are to be protected from removal if they meet a certain criteria under new rules.
UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has said that new guidelines will stop British Telecom (BT) from closing down phone boxes in areas with poor mobile signals that are still needed by their local community.
The communications moderator estimates that there are at least 1,400 phone boxes in areas without good mobile coverage.
Payphones that are located in areas with a high frequency of accidents or suicides will also be safeguarded from removal.
Figures have revealed that almost 150,000 calls were made to emergency services from phone boxes in the year to May 2020, while around 25,000 calls were made to child protection services and an additional 20,000 to were made to Samaritans.
It comes after Ofcom originally announced in 2021 that 5,000 phone boxes would be protected.
The new rules have also been updated to feature street “hubs” which offer free calls, Wifi and charging on the go.
Selina Chadha, Ofcom’s director of connectivity, said pay phones can be a “vital lifeline” for local communities.
She said: “You may think of a phone box as a local landmark, or as a landmark symbol of British nostalgia. 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.”
Under the new rules, a phone box will be safeguarded if it meets the following criteria;
- It is located in an area not covered by all four mobile networks
- It is located in an area with many accidents or suicides
- More than 52 calls have been made from it over the past 12 months
- It is otherwise providing a vital service, such as being used to make calls to Childline or Samaritans