Prime Minister Tony Blair enjoyed a trip round a newly upgraded broadband telephone exchange on Friday morning, as the north-east of England celebrated the imminent arrival of near-universal ADSL coverage.
Blair's visit to the Trimdon exchange in County Durham, which is within his constituency of Sedgefield, coincided with the announcement of a multi-million project that will see every telephone exchange in the area upgraded to offer broadband by March 2005.
This scheme is a partnership between BT and the One NorthEast regional development agency, and means that ADSL will be installed in 111 local exchanges.
Twenty-four of these exchanges are expected to hit their broadband trigger levels sometime this year, and their upgrade will now be brought forward by BT. Eighty-seven were not expected to be upgraded for some time -- either because their trigger (the number of people who have to sign up for broadband before the service is launched) was very high relative to the local population, or because they were too small or remote to have a trigger at all.
Upgrading all 111 exchanges will cost over £10m, of which £4.7m is being provided from regional development funding. BT is supplying the rest. The only people unable to get broadband in the area once the exchanges have been upgraded will be those who live too far from their exchange, or whose phone line is of too poor quality to support ADSL.
Visiting Trimbon, Blair said that the rollout of high-speed Internet services across UK was a crucial factor in the reform of public services, and the creation of a digitally connected Britain.
"Information technology is transforming our world and broadband is at the forefront of this revolution. By speeding up communication, broadband is opening up new opportunities in almost every area of our lives," said the prime minister, who began to take the issue of broadband seriously after winning the 2001 general election.
The Trimbon exchange was upgraded to offer broadband on Friday after a successful local campaign to get people to register their interest in broadband and achieve the trigger level set by BT.
Once again, BT was grateful for the unpaid efforts of enthusiasts to drive the rollout of its broadband service.
On this occasion, this included the efforts of an 18-year-old graphic design student. Michael Callachan set up a Web site to encourage neighbours to sign up, and he and his younger brother Stuart distributed promotional leaflets to homes in the area.
It is largely thanks to the efforts of enthusiasts such as the Callachan brothers that BT's broadband registration scheme has been such a success. Earlier this week the telco announced that 1,000 exchanges have now been upgraded with ADSL broadband through the scheme, which launched in the summer of 2002.