ISPs have welcomed moves by BT to upgrade every exchange in the North East to ADSL broadband by 2005.
As part of the estimated £10m contract, BT will fund the conversion of the 24 exchanges that have already reached their broadband demand trigger levels or were expected to have reached the levels within the next year.
Upgrading the other 87 exchanges will be funded with £4.7m from One NorthEast, the area's regional development agency, which has in turn received funding from the European Regional Development Funds and the Single Regional Programme. BT will cover the remaining 50 per cent.
Margaret Fay, chairman of One NorthEast, said in a statement: "This scheme will mean the North East leads the country in terms of urban and rural broadband infrastructure, helping to break down the barriers faced by people currently outside the reach of broadband."
ISP Tiscali said that upgrading exchanges would allow it and other ISPs to offer services ahead of trigger levels being reached.
"We are happy BT has done this as it enables us to offer consumers competitive and affordable broadband products sooner than if they had to wait to meet trigger levels," said Steve Horley, Tiscali's UK general manager for access and voice.
Although the upgrades are expected to bring ADSL to 95 per cent of the region's population, there will still be some who live further than 6km from their local exchange, and out of reach of the current technology.
It is possible that One NorthEast will put contracts for these areas out to tender during the upgrade process, and BT said it will consider bidding for them and forming partnerships to bid if needed.
Reseller ehotspot, which partners with satellite provider Aramiska to provide broadband to areas outside the scope of local exchanges, said it would watching with interest.
"This is good news for communities. We are quite happy to talk to BT about partnerships," said John Sprank, ehotspot chief executive.
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