Northumberland broadband revolution: First sites to be connected in 'next few months'

A project to equip 271 public buildings in rural Northumberland with fast, full-fibre broadband is underway, with the first sites due to be connected in the ‘next few months’.

Tuesday, 7th July 2020, 4:20 pm
Updated Tuesday, 7th July 2020, 4:20 pm
Picture c/o Pixabay

At the Tuesday, July 7, meeting of the county council’s cabinet, Coun Nick Oliver revealed that work has started on the Northumberland Gigabit Project, with Openreach ‘out digging trenches as we speak’.

As previously reported, councillors had to approve spending £932,111 to support the completion of the programme, following the North of Tyne Combined Authority’s successful bid to the Government’s Local Full Fibre Networks Programme last year.

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This was because the grant of up to £12million is only available for those properties connected to full fibre by the end of 2021 and the BT delivery plan ‘clearly shows a small number of property connections won’t be completed until March 31, 2022’.

Therefore, the council has to pick up the cost of these connections, but it has been confirmed that this £932,111 is ‘the absolute limit of the authority’s liability and if for any reason BT are unable to deliver a larger number of sites by December 31, 2021, the cost of these sites would not fall on the council’.

This money will largely be funded by cash paid back to the council under the gainshare arrangements which saw commercial operators like BT involved in the publicly-funded roll-out of superfast broadband have to return a share of revenues where take-up was higher than expected.

What’s more, Coun Oliver revealed that at one point, it looked as if the project may not have gone ahead at all.

“There was a moment last year when we thought we were out of the running, but officers managed to get it back on track,” he said.

When the funding was announced last year, Coun Steven Bridgett, whose Rothbury ward covers the rural Coquet Valley, raised concerns that it will not help those struggling the most with their internet connections as they are in such remote locations that there are no public buildings.

However, the scheme forms part of a ‘hub and spoke’ model, with a council official stating: “Not everywhere will benefit directly with full fibre, but any work we can do will reduce the cost of pushing it out into those communities.”

Also, vouchers are currently available in the Borderlands area, which includes Northumberland, to subsidise the costs of bringing gigabit broadband to areas suffering with slow speeds.

It was recently announced that up to £4million of additional Government funding will top up these vouchers and double the money available – the maximums are now £7,000 for eligible businesses and £3,000 for eligible residential properties. See https://gigabitvoucher.culture.gov.uk for details.

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