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The UK government has announced the latest part of its £5bn Project Gigabit national broadband programme, with ultra-high-speed connectivity being made available to more than 4,000 rural homes and businesses in the Teesdale region of north-east England.
Currently, more than 70% of the UK can access gigabit connections – such as full fibre – but these are mostly in urban areas. Project Gigabit is designed to accelerate the country’s recovery from Covid-19, fire up high-growth sectors such as tech and the creative industries, and level up the country, spreading wealth and creating jobs across Britain. The government says the projects it funds will prioritise areas that currently have slow connections and would otherwise have been left behind in broadband companies’ roll-out plans.
Under the scheme, the government aims to deliver next-generation gigabit broadband to more than a million homes and businesses in what are regarded as hard-to-reach places, in the first phase of an infrastructure project into which it has invested £5bn.
The delivery plan for Project Gigabit is a response by the government to its public consultation Planning for gigabit delivery in 2021, which sought views on how to spend its £5bn funding commitment for gigabit broadband in hard-to-reach areas, complementing industry investment from the likes of Openreach, Virgin Media and CityFibre to ensure such areas benefit from the same gigabit broadband as the rest of the country.
In this latest part of the scheme, Scottish independent broadband provider GoFibre will work with the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and Durham County Council to enable hard-to-reach homes and businesses to access gigabit-capable broadband, made possible by £6.6m of DCMS investment. The project will cover towns, villages and hamlets across the region, including premises near to Barnard Castle and Bishop Auckland, subject to further survey completion.
Following a £164m investment earlier this year from Gresham House’s British Sustainable Infrastructure Fund, GoFibre is accelerating its roll-out of full-fibre broadband throughout Scotland and the north of England, enabling the company to transform more lives and address the UK’s digital divide. GoFibre already has a presence across East Lothian, Fife and the Scottish Borders, and aims to reach hundreds of thousands of homes over the next three years.
The contract with GoFibre’s parent company, Borderlink, has been signed and planning is now under way, with construction due to begin in spring 2023. “Closing the digital divide and helping local communities to thrive by providing previously unimaginable levels of capability through high-quality broadband services is at the heart of everything we do,” said a GoFibre spokesperson. “Through our latest appointment, we will work as a trusted partner, equipping Teesdale with world-class connectivity built for the future.”
Susan McDonnell, Durham County Council cabinet member for digital, customer services and procurement, added: “We look forward to working on this exciting development, which will benefit thousands of our residents and businesses in rural areas. Reliable broadband is integral to our ambitious plans for economic growth across County Durham. It plays a significant role in opening up a wider range of education and employment opportunities and helping communities to connect with each other and thrive.”