Government funding available to transform rural broadband
Government has funded a major programme to massively subsidise the cost of bringing ‘full fibre’ Ultrafast Broadband to rural communities. This would be a massive improvement for Wark and Birtley.

Downloads around 25 to 50 times faster than now.

Uploads around 140 times faster than now.

These are best-in-world speeds comparable to those enjoyed by internet users in advanced digital economies like Singapore and Scandinavia. For anybody still using dial-up internet the speed upgrade will be even more radical, with uploads and downloads up to several hundred times quicker.

If you want to see world-class broadband in Wark and Birtley, you can submit an Expression of Interest using this online form.

The Government programme subsidises the installation of ‘full fibre’ ultrafast broadband internet infrastructure in rural areas. This involves directly connecting homes, businesses and community facilities with fibre optic cables.

This is called Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) broadband and it replaces the very slow copper telephone cables which currently make the ‘final mile’ connection into customers’ premises. Removing these copper cables would enable data to be transmitted at ‘mainline’ speeds directly into our homes, businesses and community buildings.

FTTP is also known as Ultrafast, Gigabit or Full Fibre broadband. There’s more detail about the technology in the FAQs. But to summarise the key benefit, it's all about speed.

  • If it takes you about 25 minutes to download a high definition movie now, an FTTP connection would enable you to download that same movie in around 1 minute.

  • With ultrafast broadband you could stream 4K Ultra High Definition TV to every room in your house at the same time, with zero buffering.

  • Business websites, online shopping and banking, and online games are all transformed into effectively real-time connections, with zero delays.

What’s the deal?
Government’s Department of Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS) is subsidising the costs of infrastructure providers installing Ultrafast / Gigabit / FTTP internet in rural areas. In Tynedale only Openreach is both registered for the Government programme and currently active in the local area, so we’re focussing only on that company.

The following subsidies are available, to enable Openreach to install ‘full fibre’ FTTP Gigabit infrastructure in rural communities such as Wark and Birtley.

  • For each business which signs to up Ultrafast Broadband, the DCMS Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme will subsidise Openreach £3,000 to offset the costs of installing FTTP.

  • For each resident who signs up, the Government will subsidise Openreach £500 installation costs.

  • Openreach itself has a community programme which can fund up to £30,000 if an OFSTED-registered school is connected to the FTTP network.

  • Other community charities can support the programme if they wish. Their participation would be a bonus; it is not required to make an application to the Government-funded programme.

  • Commercial companies who support local community development can contribute to the costs too. In our local case, the windfarm operators have a suitable fund. Again, any such contribution would be a bonus; it is not required to make an application to the Government-funded programme.

In order to apply to the funding programme, communities which wish to benefit from Ultrafast Broadband are required to collaborate and put together a community-wide application.

Once we have demonstrated that there are enough local residents, businesses and community organisations interested, Openreach is then required to provide a cost for installing Ultrafast Broadband to serve everyone who has signed up.

If we get our act together, and enough of the businesses and residents in the two villages sign up, we could get Openreach to install Gigabit FTTP internet into Wark and Birtley at zero cost to local residents and businesses. The subsidies could be greater than the total cost of installation. We already have the crucial Expression of Interest from Wark C of E First School: many thanks to the Headteacher.

Once installed, our villages would have exceptionally fast access to the internet. No more buffering. No more slowdowns around 7 o’clock when everyone is on the internet at the same time. Videos in ultra high definition streaming instantly.

Needless to say, this world-class connectivity is likely to increase the future value of properties connected to the system.

What happens now?
In order to qualify for the Government Programme, rural communities are required to organise and submit a combined request for Ultrafast Broadband.

We need Expressions of Interest from local businesses, residents and community organisations at this stage.

A Wark local business and a Birtley local resident have got together to coordinate the process. Dr Alan James runs his business from Wark and Paul Dennis lives in Birtley. Alan or Paul will contact you when you submit an Expression of Interest.

To submit an Expression of Interest please use this
online form.

IMPORTANT NOTE. There is no cost and no commitment of any kind at this stage.

The Expressions of Interest are only required to demonstrate community interest. This is the fundamental requirement to trigger the DCMS Government subsidy programme. Nothing happens to your existing broadband, which continues as normal.

Once we have submitted the Expressions of Interest, Openreach is then obliged under the terms of the DCMS programme to design and calculate the cost of installing the FTTP system to connect everyone who has expressed an interest. This design stage also has zero costs and zero obligation for anyone who has provided an Expression of Interest.

If enough of us submit an Expression of Interest, there could be zero cost for the infrastructure, because the subsidies could entirely cover the cost Openreach incurs in building the system.

When they have finished their design work, Openreach will then supply us with a fully costed proposal to install the infrastructure, offset by the subsidy they will receive under the DCMS scheme.

Once we have their proposal we can then decide if we wish to proceed with the upgrade. Anybody who wishes to can drop out at this later stage.

Submitting an Expression of Interest does not mean you are obliged to proceed.


Technology: hasn’t the internet in Wark and Birtley already been upgraded?
Following the investment by Openreach over the past couple of years, which replaced copper wires from the Hexham exchange to Wark and Birtley with fibre optic trunk cabling, the villages have recently been upgraded from completely outdated dial-up broadband, to a mid-speed solution.

Our current system uses modern fibre optic connections from internet backbone, but only as far as the local exchanges in Wark and Birtley and the green BT cabinets which are dotted around the villages. But the connection from these cabinets into our homes, businesses and community facilities uses old-fashioned copper telephone cables, which slows everything down. This ‘half way house’ solution is called ‘Fibre to the Cabinet’ (FTTC) broadband. FTTC is the fastest internet connection currently available in Wark and Birtley.

The outdated copper cables limit download speeds to around 50 Megabits per second (Mbps). To put this in practical terms, using the villages’ current FTTC connections, it takes around 25 minutes to fully download a movie in HD quality. As we all know, speeds can often be much slower at peak times, when many people are streaming content or playing online games simultaneously.

Technology: what is ‘full fibre’ all about?
A modern ‘full-fibre’ connection takes less than one minute to download an HD movie that would take 25 minutes over our current FTTC connections.

To achieve these speeds, internet infrastructure providers (companies like Openreach) must replace the old-fashioned copper wires with fibre optic cables directly into every customer’s home, business or community premises. This is called Fibre To The Premises (FTTP) broadband. It is also often referred to Gigabit Broadband, because data is downloaded and uploaded at one Gigabit per second (Gbps). 1 Gb/s is equal to 1,000 Mbps.

Gigabit broadband is around 25 to 50 times faster than the download speeds we typically get today in Wark and Birtley at normal and peak times. Download speeds determine how fast social media, music, video and websites download or stream to devices connected to the internet.

Upload speeds are over 140 times faster than our current typical rate of around 7Mbps. Upload speeds are critical when playing online games and for many business applications.

In short, FTTP Gigabit connections can provide ‘more than you can eat’ broadband, running at the best-in-world internet speeds enjoyed by internet users in places like Singapore and Scandinavia. FTTP means that there’s a fibre optic connection directly into the customers’ premises, transferring data at the speed of light, so bandwidth is effectively unlimited.

That’s important because it provides more than enough bandwidth for today’s most demanding applications – like UHD video streaming – but it also means that there’s plenty of capacity for the data-hungry internet services we’ll all be using in the future.

Why is Government subsidising Ultrafast Broadband in rural areas?
Because installing fibre optic cables into premises is expensive, FTTP has generally been limited to cities until now, simply because there are more customers in those locations.

Government have funded a major programme to massively subsidise the cost of bringing ‘full fibre’ Ultrafast Broadband to rural communities to ensure that such communities can fully participate in the digital economy and are not left behind as the next waves of internet innovation transform the way we interact with each other, with business and with essential services such as the NHS.

The terms of the DCMS programme require each community which wishes to benefit from Ultrafast Broadband connection to demonstrate that sufficient residents, businesses and community organisations within that community have a common interest in getting connected.

If Openreach install the fibre optic cables, does this mean I will have to switch to BT Broadband?
No. Government is subsidising any appropriately competent internet infrastructure provider to install the FTTP connections. In our area, Openreach happens to be the only infrastructure provider which has registered and qualified for the Government programme.

Openreach is currently a subsidiary of BT. However, Openreach is required by the regulator (Offcom) to install the infrastructure on an ‘open access’ basis.

This means that any Internet Service Provider (ISP) can then use the FTTP infrastructure to provide Ultrafast Broadband service to customers who are connected to the FTTP network. ISPs include companies like TalkTalk, PlusNet and Virgin as well as BT. This list is not exhaustive and is intended as an illustration of typical ISPs only. Not all ISPs offer Gigabit service in all areas. However, it is likely that major ISPs will elect to provide Gigabit service over the FTTP infrastructure, once it has been installed.

In this respect, the proposed upgrade to FTTP is just like investment by Openreach in upgrading the trunk connection from Hexham to the exchanges and cabinets in Wark and Birtley to fibre optic over the last few years. Although Openreach put the cables in the ground, residents and business are free to choose internet service provision from a wide range of ISPs who operate their services over those cables.

If I don’t submit and Expression of Interest now, will I still be able to get Ultrafast Broadband at a later date?
This is unclear. Openreach are obliged to provide a costed proposal to provide an Ultrafast Broadband connection only those residents, businesses and community organisations who have submitted an Expression of Interest. It is not possible to add Expressions of Interest after the submission has been made. However, there is no technical reason preventing additional connections being provided at a later date: it is only the cost of doing so that is not clear.

To be on the safe side, it would be best to support the initiative by submitting an Expression of Interest at this stage. If you decide later on that you don’t want to get a connection when Openreach come back with their costed proposal, you can always drop out at that stage. To repeat: there is zero cost or obligation involved in submitting an Expression of Interest.

Where can I find the official Government information about the subsidy programme?
The full details are available on the
DCMS website.