THE arrival of super-fast broadband to a rural market town has been welcomed as a boost for families and small businesses.

Hundreds of homes and businesses in Barnard Castle, County Durham, now have access to the high-speed technology – and this figure will increase to more than 3,900 as engineers complete the local upgrade in the weeks ahead.

Under the improvements users are promised download speeds of up to 80Mbps and upload speeds of up to 20Mbps.

Helen Goodman, MP for Bishop Auckland and shadow minister for culture and media, visited one of the first fibre broadband street cabinets to go live in the town.

She said: “It is a very welcome move because people in Barnard Castle need to be connected as much as people anywhere in the county.

“Given the burden of high fuel costs in the countryside, broadband is even more invaluable. This is a boost for families and small businesses.”

Barnard Castle follows other parts of County Durham where fibre broadband has already been made available as part of BT’s £2.5bn fibre programme.

BT is also working with the public sector to reach more communities in Teesdale as part of the £24m Digital Durham project, which aims to provide high-speed fibre broadband to about 94 per cent of premises by the end of 2016.

Simon Roberson, BT’s regional partnership director for the North-East, said: “Fibre broadband opens up a whole new world to internet users.

“Whatever you’re doing online, you can do it better and faster with fibre, whether it’s shopping, downloading music and video, watching TV, social networking, studying or researching homework.

“Outside the home, it also has huge potential for public services and businesses.”

However, those living in the most remote parts of upper Teesdale and Weardale may have a much longer wait for improved broadband provision as confusion surrounds Durham County Council's £1.53m bid to the Government's Rural Community Broadband Fund.

Campaigners were under the impression the bid had been made to the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in April last year and a decision awaited.

However, a Defra spokeswoman said: “Durham County Council is developing an application to this fund which is due to be submitted to Defra.

“We have not received an application as yet.”