MORE than 5,000 homes and businesses in Weardale could be surfing the internet on superfast fibre broadband by the beginning of next year.

Work is currently underway to upgrade the BT exchange in Frosterley as part of a move to roll out superfast broadband to the dale.

Engineers from Openreach, BT’s local network business, are changing and upgrading substantial amounts of equipment within the exchange building which will be the site’s most extensive engineering change since it was changed from analogue to digital in 1985.

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This will be followed later in the year by the installation of new fibre optic management systems and a huge civil engineering undertaking to lay about 60km of underground ducts which will carry cables containing 7,000km of fibres.

Derek Richardson, Openreach project director for next generation access in the North-East, said: “This is a complicated but vital engineering project which will bring huge benefits to many rural communities across Weardale.

“Extensive planning has already taken place to ensure that this work quickly and efficiently brings benefits to as many people as possible in Weardale.”

The first communities to feel those benefits will be in the Tow Law area early next year.

They will be followed by many homes and businesses in locations such as Frosterley, Wearhead, Stanhope, Wolsingham and Eastgate.

Jane Brown, Durham County Council’s portfolio holder for corporate services, said: “Bringing superfast broadband to rural areas is a challenge.

“Work has now started to overcome that challenge and bring the latest broadband technology to Weardale.

“This is fantastic news for those people living and working in Weardale.”

The Weardale scheme is part of the £25m Digital Durham programme aimed at improving broadband speeds across the region.

In April 2013, a partnership of eight local authorities including Durham County Council, agreed a deal with BT to extend high-speed fibre broadband availability to around 94 per cent of North-East premises by the end of 2016.

It is also aiming to provide a minimum of 2Mbps broadband speeds for all.

BT has invested £5.9m into the plan with £7.8m coming from Durham County and Gateshead Councils, £9.1m Government funding from Broadband Delivery UK and £1.3m from the public sector.

And with a further £1m from the Rural Community Broadband Fund Digital Durham is aiming to provide next generation fibre broadband to 98 per cent of County Durham.

For more information about the Digital Durham programme, visit durham.gov.uk