More than 52,000 homes and businesses in Northumberland now have access to superfast broadband after the first phase of a county-wide roll-out programme was completed.
The mostly government-funded iNorthumberland project aims to deliver internet speeds of at least 24Mbps or above to properties not served by BT’s fibre optic roll-out.
The first phase was intended to bring fibre broadband to around 43,000 homes and businesses by December 2015, but that deadline was pushed back when an additional 9,000 properties were included.
Phase two will deliver superfast broadband to 3,700 rural properties by June 2017 at a cost of £4.1 million, and preparation work is already well underway.
This second phase, which focuses on the more remote parts of Northumberland, is expected to be even more of a test due to long stretches of narrow winding roads which need to be tackled.
That will require road closures and other traffic restrictions while engineers lay long sections of new underground cabling ducts. They will also need to work around difficulties connecting power to new cabinets, situated in remote locations.
Northumberland’s first green fibre street cabinet went live in January 2014, and since then, BT has installed another 219 cabinets as well as laying down hundreds of kilometres of underground fibre optic cable.
Simon Roberson, BT’s Regional Partnership Director for the North East, admitted that the project “has not been easy” but praised the efforts of around 100 engineers who put in “thousands of man hours to plan and carry out this mammoth feat of civil engineering".
Anne-Marie Trevelyan, MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed, added: “Decent broadband is the fourth utility for all our homes and without decent broadband, our children cannot do their homework, small businesses cannot grow and farmers cannot submit their online DEFRA forms.”
Funding for the iNorthumberland programme comes from Department for Culture Media and Sport via BDUK, Northumberland County Council, European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), Defra’s Rural Community Broadband Fund, and BT.