A CONFERENCE centre and hotel has become the first in the area to offer free wireless access to the Internet.

The system in the Sleep Inn Hotel and Conference Centre, next to junction 59 of the A1 between Darlington and Newton Aycliffe, cost about £5,000 to develop and install.

General manager Richard Summerfield said: "Many of our guests are business people who have laptop computers equipped with the latest wi-fi technology.

"This means that, provided they are in range of suitable receive and transmission facilities, they can access the Internet without having to plug their device into a telephone socket."

The hotel has been equipped with the wi-fi Internet connection facilities.

Guests can access the Internet, send and receive e-mails or voice messages, and connect to their company's network from anywhere within the building.

Mr Summerfield said the facility was being provided free to customers until the end of April.

After that it will cost £2.50 an hour, or £10 for a 24-hour period.