A LOCAL authority responsible for an area once condemned as an internet backwater has heralded an “incredible” turnaround in which up to 97 per cent of properties will be connected to superfast fibre broadband.

North Yorkshire County Council’s leading members hailed the achievement for which it has prioritised funding over the last decade amid government funding cuts, as they approved investing £12.5m to provide good access to online services to thousands more remote and hard to reach properties.

A meeting of the authority’s executive heard it was within days of signing a contract with a provider to launch the fourth phase of the drive it launched in 2010, which would bring the proportion of superfast broadband properties up from 92 per cent.

Concerns that the county was being left in the internet slow lane were mounting in 2009, when the then Vale of York MP Anne McIntosh said “broadband notspots are an unacceptable relic of the past”.

Some two years later government figures revealed some of the country’s worst internet blackspots included Richmond and Thirsk and Malton constituencies, where 39.9 and 38 per cent of properties respectively did not have superfast broadband. In stark contrast, only 3.1 per cent of properties in neighbouring Darlington and 125 properties or 0.1 per cent in the Middlesbrough constituency lacked superfast broadband.

The authority’s executive member for access, Councillor Don Mackenzie, told the executive meeting to address the issue the county council had invested almost £100m in the county’s digital infrastructure, connecting up more than 180,000 business and domestic premises to high quality broadband, leading to the latest 97 per cent of properties target.

He said: “I consider that a remarkable achievement in the country’s largest and one of the most rural counties.”

Members of the committee enthused about the initiative, saying it was fantastic that people living in very remote areas such as parts of the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales national parks, were now enjoying very fast connection speeds.

Councillor Greg White added: “If we are going to keep our population healthy and well we need to keep them connected.”

The authority’s leader Councillor Carl Les said transformation the county had seen was “incredible”. He said the cost of connections had risen from about £100 a property when the authority started the superfast process to about £1,400 a property now, but costs could be up to £3,000 for the most hard to reach homes.

He said digital connectivity had become even more important to people’s lives since the Covid-19 pandemic, as more turned online to keep in touch, carry on working and learning and keep businesses accessible. Cllr Les said: “Ideally we would love to get to 100 per cent of properties connected to superfast broadband because it is now as important to people as electricity and water. There will come a point when the last one, two or three per cent of properties will be just so difficult to get to we won’t be able to connect them.”

The increased fibre broadband coverage will mean many more properties will be able to access 5G or fifth generation technology, the planned successor to the 4G phone networks, if operators also install masts.

The 5G technology is viewed as key to tackling the connectivity issues across a third of the county which lacks of 4G mobile coverage, with many rural communities still struggling to keep connected because of the lack of digital infrastructure.

As part of a £6m government scheme, residents of Coverdale, and later of Arkengarthdale, will being given the opportunity to be involved in testing the latest 5G technology.

As the project progresses, a 5G phone network will be added giving residents the chance to test new technology to find out how the latest wireless technology can further enhance their future.