The roll-out of high-speed, fibre-based broadband across Weardale is moving along at top speed with more than 4,200 households and businesses now able to benefit as a result of the multi million pound Digital Durham partnership.
Engineers from Openreach, BT’s local network business, began upgrading the first BT exchange in Weardale in 2014 with premises in Hamsterley being the first to be connected to the new, high speed technology in February 2015.Since then, people living and working in communities such as Cowshill, Frosterley, Stanhope, Eastgate and Wearhead have also been upgraded.
Chris Richardson, who runs the Chatterbox Café, in St John’s Chapel, is just one of many businesspeople in the area already enjoying the benefits of fibre. Chris said: “Superfast broadband is great for customers using our wi-fi as it doesn’t matter how many people are logged on, they all get fast downloads.
“A surprising amount of our behind-the-scenes business is carried out online. Our accounts are “in the cloud”, we upload large graphic files to our printer and after a busy shift we love to wind down with lag-free Netflix.”
The Digital Durham team will be visiting Weardale to explain why faster broadband is such good news and to answer any questions local people may have about the roll-out. On Thursday September 8, the team will be at Witton le Wear Community Centre between 1:30pm – 3pm.
They will also be holding sessions at Chatterbox Café, St John’s Chapel on Thursday September 15 between 11am and 12:30pm, and Crook Library between 2pm – 3.30pm.
Digital Durham is delivered by Durham County Council and BT.
Cllr Jane Brown, Durham County Council’s cabinet member for corporate services, said: “It is brilliant that so many homes and businesses in Weardale can now enjoy the benefits of fibre-based broadband.
“This technology is particularly important in rural areas as it allows people, some of whom may live a long way from their place of work, shops, friends and families, to work, shop and socialise online.
“Anyone who has any queries about how fibre-based broadband can be of use to them is more than welcome to come along to these sessions.”
The first phase of the multi million pound Digital Durham partnership has been completed successfully with more than 107,000 households and businesses now able to access faster fibre-based broadband as a direct result of the programme.
Work is already well underway on the second phase of the roll-out with the first homes and businesses expected to be connected by the end of next month. This additional £9 million investment will bring fibre broadband speeds within reach of a further 29,000 homes and businesses across the Digital Durham programme area by December 2018.
Simon Roberson, BT’s regional partnership director for the North East, said: “Rural geographies, such as Weardale, present many challenges not faced in more urban areas, such as the need to build long stretches of underground ducting for new cables on sometimes narrow, winding roads. There can also be difficulties connecting power to the new fibre cabinets situated in particularly remote locations.
“But we are determined to overcome the challenges and make this exciting technology as widely available as possible. It brings huge benefits to local people because whatever you do online you can do it better with fibre broadband.
“I would encourage those who can already access fibre-based broadband to contact their service provider to arrange an upgrade. It’s an ‘opt in’ service, but because the Openreach network is ‘open’, there is a wide choice of fibre broadband providers.”
In total, £34 million has been invested in Digital Durham by BT, Durham County Council, the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme and public sector partners in Gateshead, Sunderland, South Tyneside, North Tyneside and Tees Valley.
Thousands of households and businesses across the Digital Durham programme area have already ordered fibre-based broadband and are now enjoying faster speeds of up to 80Mbps and upload speeds of up to 20Mbps.
For more information about Digital Durham visit www.digitaldurham.org
 Tees Valley includes Darlington Borough Council, Hartlepool Borough Council, Middlesbrough Council, Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council and Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council.
These are the top wholesale speeds available from BT’s local network business Openreach to all service providers; speeds offered by service providers may vary