The North of Tyne Combined Authority (NTCA) has welcomed the news that around 35,000 homes and businesses in Northumberland, Newcastle and North Tyneside can now access some of the fastest, most reliable broadband anywhere in the UK.

As designated key workers, Openreach engineers have been hard at work throughout the Covid-19 lockdown and restrictions, building the new network that uses the latest gigabit capable, Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband technology – where fibre optic cables are laid all the way from the local telephone exchange to people’s homes or businesses. The new technology is ‘live’ in and around locations such as Newcastle, Benton, Gosforth and Whitley Bay, with many homes and businesses now able to order an upgrade.  And in the coming weeks and months, thousands more will be upgraded in areas in and around Blyth, Whitley Bay, Alnwick and Morpeth, as engineers continue work building the infrastructure and installing the cables required to connect those areas.

Cllr Nick Forbes, North of Tyne Cabinet Member for Business Competitiveness and Leader of Newcastle City Council, said: “I welcome this investment in our digital infrastructure by Openreach. It joins £8.5 million investment by government to pave the way for a rollout of fibre internet connections to hundreds of public buildings across the region, drastically improving the speed and reliability of digital connections. Building back from COVID includes our investment in digital. We want the North of Tyne to be the best place to live, work, and do business digitally in the UK and this is a big step in the right direction.”

In some of the most remote corners of Northumberland dozens of communities are also set to get the new technology via Openreach’s Community Fibre Partnership (CFP) Scheme – a scheme which is designed to help people living and working in rural communities that are not included in any current roll-out plans. Openreach co-fund the installation with the communities often able to cover the majority or all of their contribution via the UK Government Gigabit Vouchers and the Digital Borderlands Voucher Scheme. Working with Northumberland County Council’s iNorthumberland team, Openreach proactively identify communities who might be able to benefit from a CFP but also welcome applications from individuals on behalf of their community.

Robert Thorburn, Openreach’s Regional Partnership Director in the North, said: “We’re making great progress here in the North East and our full fibre build has continued despite the obvious challenges. As well as keeping the existing network running, our engineers have continued building the new infrastructure to make sure our network is there to support families, businesses and the economic recovery. Our engineers are bringing the new network to rural, semi-rural and urban areas as well as upgrading new housing developments across the region. In Northumberland we’re also working to upgrade more than 270 public buildings such schools and libraries which will benefit not only them but thousands of homes and business surrounding them.

“I’d encourage everyone who can to switch to the new technology and take advantage of the many benefits. ‘Full fibre’ is more reliable and more resilient meaning fewer faults and more predictable, consistent speeds. It is also ‘future-proof’ to easily meet the growing data demands of future technologies. A number of service providers are now offering full fibre broadband packages to suit the needs of both households and businesses so if you’ve had an upgrade check what is available in your area.”

Recent research suggests the network could bring clear economic benefits as the North East looks to bounce back from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. A report by the Centre for Economics & Business Research (Cebr) shows that connecting everyone in the North East to ‘full fibre’ broadband would create a £1.7 billion boost to the local economy, by unlocking smarter ways of working, better public services and greater opportunities for the next-generation of home-grown businesses.

The report also revealed that 20,000 people in the region could be brought back into the workforce through enhanced connectivity – including in small businesses and through entrepreneurship. Across the North East, Openreach employs more than 1,300 people to build and maintain its phone and broadband network.