More funding is being made available to help County Durham’s rural businesses and residents access a faster internet connection.

Durham County Council is adding £500,000 to top up a government funding scheme, helping to connect properties in some of the hardest to reach areas of the country.

The Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme (GBVS) offers a one-off contribution to businesses and residents in rural areas to subsidise the installation costs of a gigabit-capable, full-fibre broadband connection.

The top-up doubles the funding amount available through the GBVS to eligible applicants. For homes, the maximum funding per voucher will be £3,000, while SMEs (small and medium-enterprises) can claim up to £7,000.

The council’s top-up is available to rural properties with download speeds of less than 30 Megabits per second (Mbps).

The vouchers must be used as part of a group project of two or more properties in the same community, as this allows for the vouchers to be pooled together to subsidise the cost of installing a connection.

The scheme is available from 12 September 2020, with government funding being allocated before any council funding is applied.

A separate application is not necessary for the top-up scheme, as eligible properties will receive the funding when benefitting from the Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme through a registered supplier.

Cllr Andrea Patterson, the council’s Cabinet member for corporate services and rural issues, said: “Reliable digital infrastructure is required to support and maximise economic growth across the county, especially in the rural areas. Access to full-fibre broadband is a key element of our digital strategy and it is important that we make the most of any funding opportunities that arise to enhance digital connectivity.

“I would encourage all business owners and residents to check their eligibility for the scheme and contact their preferred registered supplier.”

Digital Infrastructure Minister, Matt Warman, said: “This is great news for the people of County Durham. It means even more homes and businesses will be able to enjoy the benefits of the fastest and most reliable broadband on the market, regardless of where they live.

“I am thrilled that Durham County Council is helping us expand our voucher scheme, which has already helped thousands of people enjoy huge boosts to their internet speed. I hope this announcement convinces even more people to visit our website to check if they are eligible for an upgrade.”

The scheme forms part of the government’s commitment to make full-fibre broadband available to 15 million premises by 2025 and a nationwide network by 2033.

The funding will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis until the end of March 2021, when the scheme will close. For more information, visit https://gigabitvoucher.culture.gov.uk/ and use the postcode checker to check eligibility before selecting a supplier.

Residents can also contact Digital Durham with any questions about the scheme on 03000 261 160, or email digital.durham@durham.gov.uk.