A PLAN to equip 97 per cent of homes and businesses across the region with the kind of broadband speeds that will mean faster downloads and online streaming is underway.

The first households and firms are now being linked up to high-speed fibre broadband that will guarantee data download speeds in excess of 24 megabits per second. That means your favourite TV programmes over the internet, movies, YouTube videos, and music, for example can all be experienced without freezing or buffering.

The Superfast West Yorkshire programme is focusing on those areas which have either no or poor coverage. Spreading across the region, the £24 million project aims to fill in the gaps left by the commercial providers and offer fibre broadband speeds to areas that would otherwise lag behind. Funded by the Government, the European Regional Development Fund Programme, the West Yorkshire authorities of Bradford, Calderdale, Wakefield and Leeds, and BT, the region's digital infrastructure will be upgraded - and bring with it the benefits of better broadband.

Many of the towns and villages that are set to benefit are in the more rural areas. So far in the Bradford district two new green street cabinets that connect up people's homes have been installed in the Ilkley area, with 245 homes and businesses now able to benefit from the new network. Streets include Wells Road and Westwood Drive and people in these areas are being encouraged to sign up. By September a further 29 cabinets will link up a further 2,000 homes and businesses in Keighley, Steeton, Cullingworth, and Drighlington.

John Bullivent, contract manager at Superfast West Yorkshire explained that it is akin to bringing the telecoms exchange closer to people's homes.

"As it stands now there is an exchange, and a copper line from the exchange to an old green cabinet on a street corner. It's then a copper line to your premises - hence it slows down as the distance increases from the exchange and you get problem areas with slower speeds or no speed at all.

"With fibre to the cabinet, it is fibre from the exchange to a new green cabinet on your street which is close by the old green cabinet. The new cabinet is joined up to the old cabinet, then the copper wires from the old cabinet to your premises remain. So it is fast to the cabinet and doesn't slow down at all, but it is still copper to your premises, so could still slow down if you are far away from the cabinet."

Fibre to the cabinet, the main technology the project uses, delivers speeds of up to 80Mbps, but the final speed at a home or business depends on a number of factors, such as the distance from the exchange or street cabinet, geography, and the wiring within the premises.

A map on the Superfast West Yorkshire website indicates which areas are part of the project and people can register their interest there to be kept updated as to when the higher speeds become available. More than 5,000 people have already done so.

But as Mr Bullivent explained, it is not an automatic switch over. Anyone wanting to make use of the higher speeds that fibre can bring, will need to contact their internet service provider and sign up to a fibre broadband contract.

"You don't get upgraded automatically - the speed is not just turned up. You've got to go to your ISP and get a new contract for fibre broadband," he said.

The project is designed to help boost the local economy by improving the way that people access the internet and online services as well as how businesses operate. For many of us this could be as simple as having improved access to online shopping and banking, but for others it could make the difference that means you can work from home as effectively as from the office, or set up your own business and run it from home.

Up to 85 per cent of West Yorkshire already has access to superfast broadband, or will receive it shortly through BT's commercial roll out. So the Superfast project focuses on the parts of the 15 per cent that do not have good coverage. Come autumn 2015 the intention is that every property in West Yorkshire will have access to a basic broadband service as a minimum. But when both Superfast West Yorkshire and commercial fibre has rolled out, 97 per cent of these homes and businesses will be able to reach the higher speeds.

The project also involves a series of business support events to help small and medium sized firms develop and grow through use of the internet with a number of the sessions in Bradford.

So far the Superfast West Yorkshire team have linked up 6,957 homes and businesses to the fibre network - about ten per cent of the project area. But in doing so engineers have already laid 56,864 metres of fibre cable and the project is currently ahead of schedule.

With many more metres to go, the team are hoping to raise further funding to help the remaining three per cent of properties that the initial project does not reach. If their bid for further Government funding is successful then basic broadband could become a thing of the past in West Yorkshire.

More information can be found online at superfastwestyorkshire.co.uk.