Business consultant Stuart Armstrong has been saved from having to move out of his village thanks to the arrival of high-speed, fibre-based broadband.
Stuart, who works from home, said existing broadband speeds to his property in the rural village of Merrybent, in Darlington, were so low he was struggling to do his job and was looking to move to somewhere with better connectivity.
He said: “My job has gradually moved more and more online. Without superfast broadband I would have eventually reached a point where I couldn’t carry on and would have no choice but to move away.”
Stuart works as an in-house consultant for an international pharmaceutical company supporting senior management teams based around the globe. The dad of two reckons he spends at least half his working week online communicating with colleagues.
His regular clients are located across numerous time zones – in countries including Japan, Brazil and China, making it ideal for Stuart to be based at home.
“I visit the teams in person around twice a year on average but the rest of the time we communicate online. Being based at home allows me to work around the time differences and being online means I’m not racking up huge international phone bills. And it obviously cuts down massively on travel costs,” Stuart said.
Stuart, who signed up to superfast following the rollout of fibre to the area by the Digital Durham programme, said he had previously been struggling with speeds of less than 2Mbps but was now seeing speeds 30 times faster.
He said: “The nature of my work means that I’m often presenting to teams online using video conferencing and PowerPoint. Regularly, the connection was slow so everything would lag. I would be talking about one slide and wondering why I’m not getting a response then realise the audience were two slides behind. At least once a week I would lose my connection altogether. If you’re in the middle of a presentation to a group of senior people, that can be pretty debilitating. You can only do that once or twice before it becomes a real issue.
“Now if I want to upload a presentation to talk about I click a button and it’s there, pretty much within a few seconds whereas before I had to finish one call fifteen minutes early to upload the next presentation in time for my next meeting.”
As well as transforming his working day, Stuart said having superfast broadband had made a huge impact on his family life as well.
“Dealing with colleagues in different time zones means I’m often working into the evening – just when everyone else in the family wants to get online. Before, because of our limited bandwidth I had to kick everyone else off because I needed to squeeze every bit of juice out of the broadband in order to work. I have two children, one aged 11 and one five, and they both want to be online whether it’s for homework or just watching TV or playing video games. This was a massive irritation in our family life and a daily occurrence. Now it’s never an issue – everyone can be online at the same time and everything runs smoothly,” Stuart said.
More than 100,000 homes and businesses are now able to connect to faster, fibre-based broadband thanks to the Digital Durham programme.
On average, engineers from Openreach, BT’s local network business, are switching on 22 new street cabinets and making the new fibre network available to around 4,700 more premises every month.
The Digital Durham broadband programme is delivered by Durham County Council and BT. In total, £34 million has been invested by BT, Durham County Council, Government funding from Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) and public sector partners in Sunderland, South Tyneside, Gateshead, North Tyneside and the Tees Valley.
A second phase of fibre deployment is already planned to begin in July 2016. This involves a £9 million investment in the programme area. It includes £2.82 million from the Government’s Superfast Extension Plan and £4 million from BT, with the remaining investment split between the local authority partners. An additional 29,000 homes and businesses will benefit as a result. By the end of the roll-out, 97 per cent of premises within the programme area will have access to fibre-based broadband.
Thousands of homes and businesses across the Digital Durham programme area have ordered fibre broadband and are now enjoying faster broadband speeds of up to 80Mbps and upload speeds of up to 20Mbps.
It’s an ‘opt in’ service, but because the Openreach network is ‘open’, residents and businesses wanting to upgrade have a choice of fibre broadband providers, with more than 140 companies now operating across the UK.
For more information about the Digital Durham programme please visit www.digitaldurham.org
 Tees Valley includes Darlington Borough Council, Hartlepool Borough Council, Middlesbrough Council, Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council and Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council.
These are the top wholesale speeds available from BT’s local network business Openreach to all service providers; speeds offered by service providers may vary