The coastal village of Whitburn has become the first location on South Tyneside to benefit from the multi million pound Digital Durham broadband programme.
Around 1,170 households and businesses in Whitburn can now go superfast with a further 1,390 to follow before the end of 2017. And over the next six months engineers from Openreach, BT’s local network business, will continue to roll-out the technology to a further 2,115 premises across South Tyneside. This is in addition to more than 57,000 already upgraded as part of BT’s own commercial roll-out of fibre in the borough.
Cllr Ed Malcolm, lead member for innovation and resources at South Tyneside Council, today officially unveiled one of Whitburn’s new fibre broadband cabinets at Range Villas. He said: “This is a momentous occasion for residents and businesses in South Tyneside, who will reap the benefits of superfast broadband in the months to come thanks to our partnership with Digital Durham.
“The importance of fibre-based broadband cannot be overstated in this digital age and will provide a real boost for the local economy. Having faster connectivity to the Internet is crucial to business development and I am confident that this will be a major factor in the success of our local business community.
“Residents of all ages will also benefit from this superfast service allowing them to access information online for work, study or leisure much more quickly and conveniently.”
Digital Durham is a £34 million programme to transform broadband speeds for businesses and residents across ten North East local authority areas. South Tyneside Council joined the programme to ensure that local homes and businesses not included in any commercial fibre broadband roll-out plans by the private sector would not miss out on the technology.
One business looking forward to the boost in broadband speeds is M-Technic Fabrication Ltd, based on the nearby Boldon Business Park, which is also set to benefit from the fibre rollout.
Director Mark Turnbull, who lives in Whitburn, said: “I’m really pleased that because of this partnership I’m going to get superfast broadband speeds both at home and in the office. As a business, everything we do is underpinned by being online, but lack of broadband bandwidth is our Achilles heel. We have to upload and download very large 3D drawing files and our current broadband speeds can’t cope. One of our big clients is Nissan, who are based about a mile away. At the moment it is quicker to put someone in a car and deliver files on a memory stick rather than via email, so the upgrade to fibre can’t come soon enough.”
Mark added that the arrival of fibre will boost productivity and help give them a competitive edge. “In the past we’ve tried teleconferencing with clients as it’s a much more efficient way of working collaboratively but we could never make it work,” he said. “Having high speed broadband will allow us to do that and much more. We can enhance our presentation of the company to the outside world by developing our website, for example, making it more interactive and content rich. And we can compete on an equal footing with other businesses in our sector that already have the advantage of high-speed broadband.”Mark is also looking forward to signing up to a new superfast service at his home in Whitburn. “As well as being able to work more flexibly from home when needed, the faster speeds will also improve everything from watching catch up TV to doing online shopping. I can’t wait until my cabinet is upgraded.” he said.
Simon Roberson, BT’s regional partnership director for the North East, said: “From children doing their homework to caring for our elderly population and from social media to e-commerce and home entertainment – fast broadband is the critical enabler.
“Every day the number of services delivered to us online, whether designed to entertain, educate or meet our daily needs, is growing. Content and applications will only get more sophisticated until superfast broadband becomes vital for doing all your essential tasks online, so it is critical that communities take advantage of the technology as it arrives.
“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.”
The investment in fibre-based broadband will boost the local economy and help to create or protect local jobs. It will be of particular benefit to local businesses which can use the faster speeds to improve their competitiveness both within the UK and abroad.
Faster broadband will help local businesses find new customers and become more competitive and efficient, whilst for households the high-speed technology will offer new educational, training and leisure opportunities.
In total, £34 million has been invested in Digital Durham by BT, Durham County Council, South Tyneside Council, the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme and public sector partners in Gateshead, Sunderland, North Tyneside, and the Tees Valley Combined Authority.
 Tees Valley includes Darlington Borough Council, Hartlepool Borough Council, Middlesbrough Council, Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council and Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council.