NEWCASTLE and Gateshead are on track to become two of the hottest communication spots in the UK after striking a new deal to install free Wi-Fi in public areas.
BT has been chosen to provide the new service, which will see residents and visitors able to connect to Wi-Fi hotspots at key locations on both sides of the river, free of charge.
The contract has been signed by Newcastle City Council, Gateshead Council and BT as part of the Go Digital Newcastle super-fast broadband initiative. Work is expected to get underway during the summer.
Cabinet Member for Investment and Development Cllr Ged Bell at Newcastle City Council, said: “We’re delighted to announce this new contract with BT.
“Our Go Digital Newcastle project is transforming the city into a digital powerhouse. And now with the investment in free public Wi-Fi, Newcastle will be among a number of cities in the UK that will have this kind of digital infrastructure.
“We’re already increasing fibre broadband coverage across the city, helping residents and businesses to take advantage of super-fast broadband in their homes and premises - and now, residents, businesses and visitors will be able to access free public Wi-Fi in key locations across the city while they’re on the move.”
The investment will put Newcastle and Gateshead in the forefront of UK areas for public Wi-Fi availability. Cllr Mary Foy, Gateshead Council’s Cabinet Member for Economy, said the new service, once implemented, would be incredibly valuable to businesses, visitors and residents.
“Digital connections are changing our lives dramatically, and we have a commitment to being at the front of this digital revolution,” she said.
Farooq Hakim, BT’s regional director for the North East, said: “We are really proud to have been chosen by Newcastle and Gateshead to deliver free-to-use Wi-Fi in the town centres.
“We're already working with a number of other cities like Glasgow and Cardiff and the networks we have built for them have proven really popular with businesses and shoppers. We hope free Wi-Fi goes down just as well in Newcastle and Gateshead.
“The agreement will also see BT and the cities working together to help mobile operators give Newcastle and Gateshead great coverage.
Go Digital Newcastle is run by Newcastle City Council and part-funded by the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme.
Culture Secretary Sajid Javid said: "I’m delighted that Newcastle has taken up the challenge to become one of the UK’s Superconnected Cities as part of the Government programme. It’s vital that our cities have the digital infrastructure like superfast broadband and Wi-Fi in place to deal with the demands of the digital age. Our investment in Newcastle has delivered a welcome boost to Newcastle’s economy, and is all part of our long-term economic plan.”
The programme is currently extending access to superfast broadband across almost the whole city, with both residents and businesses able to benefit from faster internet connections if they sign up with a fibre broadband supplier.
As part of Go Digital Newcastle, businesses in Newcastle, Gateshead, North Tyneside and South Tyneside can apply for free vouchers worth up to £3,000 to get connected to superfast broadband. And from 1 April, the scheme will be extending to County Durham, Northumberland, Sunderland, Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesborough, Redcar and Cleveland, and Stockton-on-Tees.
In a further part of the programme funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), businesses in Newcastle can also apply for free business support including one-to-one advice and masterclasses – and can also receive a further £2,000 for IT equipment.