A GOVERNMENT minister has hailed the £31.7m rollout of high-speed broadband in Dorset as a success on its first anniversary.

The Superfast Dorset initiative, involving local authorities and BT, has been described as the “most significant” infrastructure programme that councils locally have ever embarked on.

The scheme has made high-speed broadband available to more than 8,000 homes and businesses in its first year.

The second phase will reach another 10,000 premises by the end of the year in parts of Abbotsbury, Dorchester, Maiden Newton, Martinstown, Preston, Puddletown, Upwey and Warmwell.

Dorset County Council signed a multi-million pound contract with BT last July to provide fibre broadband access to more than 80,000 premises.

It says this, together with providers’ commercial rollouts, will make superfast fibre broadband available to 95 per cent of the county by the end of 2016.

Communications minister Ed Vaizey said: “Dorset has achieved a lot in the year since the rollout began and I’m delighted that already so many homes and businesses are enjoying access to superfast broadband speeds as a result of the programme.

“We understand how important superfast broadband is and the widespread access to this ‘fourth utility’ that our rollout will deliver will provide a tremendous boost to the Dorset economy.”

Cllr Peter Finney, pictured, Dorset County Council’s cabinet member for the environment, said: “This is the most significant investment in infrastructure that Dorset councils, working together, have ever embarked on.

“Thousands of people can already benefit and the high coverage we will achieve by 2016 will make Dorset even more competitive as a great place to live, work and build businesses.”

Bill Murphy, BT Group’s managing director for next generation access, said: “Superfast Dorset has been making strong progress since it was launched a year ago.

“The first homes and businesses in the county to benefit from the partnership already have access to this exciting technology. With our recent announcement of the second phase of the programme, many more rural communities will be connected.

“High speed fibre broadband will boost the competitiveness of local businesses as well as providing new learning and entertainment opportunities for households.”