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Broadband switch-off looms for rural Teesdale

Friday, March 6th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

A high-speed broadband network in the North East will be switched off within the next 30 days, its owner has confirmed.

The Digital Teesdale project, which supplies wireless broadband to people in rural parts of the Teesdale Valley in County Durham, will be turned off.

The move will leave its 139 users facing charges of hundreds of pounds to get connected via a new network that is to be built in its place.

The project was originally backed by a group of investors led by Durham County Council. The contract was awarded to technology company Networks by Wireless.

However, Networks by Wireless went into administration last year, with its assets – including Digital Teesdale – acquired by network infrastructure giant ITS Technology Group.

Roy Shelton, the group’s CEO, said it was ITS’s plan to upgrade and invest to provide a faster network to the area. The Networks by Wireless project was only delivering up to 8Mbps, despite promising speeds of up to 20Mbps.

But Mr Shelton said the costs associated with it had made the network and its services “commercially unviable”, telling Cable.co.uk: “The network is in fact due to be turned off within the next 30 days.”

He said the decision was not taken lightly and other funding options had been explored, including lobbying Durham County Council, which was unable to commit to Digital Teesdale.

“Despite this, ITS is not turning its back on the project,” Mr Shelton added.

“In fact it is working with local partner and service provider Comtek to offer alternative services over a completely new, faster and more reliable network.”

For ITS to make the investment and begin work, he said a minimum of 50 residents or businesses would need to sign up, and this requirement had nearly been met.

The new network will provide speeds of up to 20Mbps at a cost of between £29.99 and £39.99 a month, depending on whether people sign up for 12, 24, or 36 months.

One-off connection fee

To receive the service, people will have to pay a one-off connection fee of £575 for a 12-month contract, £475 for 24 months, or £375 for a 36 months.

If they do not sign up for this, people can use a satellite service, but still face installation charges of £556 for a residential package. Monthly charges for the satellite service range from £16.66 to £70 for download speeds of between 4Mbps and 15Mbps.

Businesses face a £568 installation charge with monthly charges between £60 and £471 depending on the speeds and the period of the contract.

Phil Jackman, head of IT at Durham County Council, said: “We are very supportive of private sector initiatives which take broadband to very rural properties, but we cannot provide public money to make their programmes sustainable or be responsible for any fees they incur.

“State aid rules are clear that we cannot invest public money twice in the same area or product.”

He said the current Digital Durham Programme will deliver superfast broadband to 96% of properties across the whole of County Durham, including 80% in the Teesdale area, and is already delivering speeds of more than 24Mbps to some communities across the Dales and elsewhere.

The council is due to sign a contract to extend superfast coverage across the whole county to 98%, he said.

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