Open letter to DECNR about the withdrawal of the telephone allowance

Dear Minister Rabbitte,

IrelandOffline notes with utter dismay the headlines about elderly people and the disabled living in fear of their telephones allowance being cut off and leaving them in probable danger and perhaps helpless as a consequence.

The Department of Communications have utterly failed to protect old and vulnerable people, irrespective of any particular technology. So-called “experts” in the Department have long been aware of roaming agreements which is the most suitable way of deploying mobile phones in rural areas and can maximise the signal coverage in very rural areas with low user bases.

However these “experts” in the Department of Communications have entirely neglected to brief you, their Minister, on the the advantages of such an arrangement and on the further advantages of National Roaming on Vulnerable Persons packages. The implementation of such a scheme would  mean that panic button calls can be sent out on any network available and not just the 112/999 calls which are carried free on all mobile networks and always were. We must query what ideological barriers do not allow such a simple arrangement to be put in place speedily .

The key difference between panic button calls and emergency calls is that panic button calls can be sent to a near neighbour or a relative for immediate action and not just to an ambulance station which may be perhaps up to 50 miles away. That difference could be a life or death issue to someone who cannot explain to an emergency operator what is wrong with them, e.g. after a person has had a stroke.

We therefore call upon you Minister to instruct your technical staff to find an immediate solution to this problem for elderly and vulnerable rural people in the rural parts of Ireland like Ballindine in Co. Mayo.

All that is needed is a roaming agreement WITHIN Ireland and for elderly and vulnerable persons ONLY.  These types of national roaming arrangements have long been implemented in many other countries such as Spain, France and Italy.

For a relatively small outlay Minister Rabbitte can assure people that the vast majority of panic calls will get through to their precise destinations and that relatives and neighbours can respond straight away to the emergency calls of their elderly or vulnerable neighbours or relatives thereby saving lives and possibly costly hospital admissions.

In the “Internet capital of the world”, as your government likes to call Ireland, surely such a simple initiative cannot be too complex for you Minister or indeed for your technical staff?

We demand that you fix this problem before your colleague Minister Burton withdraws the residual vulnerable and elderly persons Telephone Allowances on the 1st of January 2014. That much, and for the price of perhaps €1 per customer ( €0.30c SIM and €0.70c postage and packing) is the decent thing to do Minister. It will cost you less than €1m Euros and  will save many.

Abandoning elderly and vulnerable people in rural areas to your “liberalised market”  that you have gleefully referred to over 200 times in the Dáil, since you became Minister, would be an obscenity.  We sincerely hope that your term in office, together with the utterly dismal advice your staff give you, has surely not desensitised you to the concept of basic decency.

Act now(1).And please, no more of your oul “liberalised market” nonsense this time.

1As required under Article 8a(4) of the Framework Directive, transposed by SI No. 333 2011

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