by Robert Thorburn, Openreach Partnership Director

It seems scarcely believable that just a month ago, towns and cities across the North East were packed with shoppers and workers going about their daily business.

Life was as close to what used to pass for normal.  But since then, everything has changed.

Our homes have become much more than just places to live. They’re doubling up as offices and school classrooms. We’re still able to socialise, but online please rather than in person.

This huge lifestyle change places great pressure on the broadband network and here at Openreach - the UK’s biggest provider used by customers of BT, Sky, TalkTalk, Plusnet and Vodafone – we’re keeping people connected.

A question we’ve been asked lots recently is can the network cope? Are you able to handle all these extra people working from home and spending more time online? The short answer is yes, we’re not experiencing any issues and we don’t anticipate any.

Internet traffic across the North East is up by about 20%, compared to before stay at home restrictions were put in place. 32 Petabytes of data (a Petabyte is equal to 1,000 terabytes or 1,000,000 gigabytes) were consumed last week across the region, compared to around 26 Petabytes in a typical week pre-lockdown.

Most of that increase is during the daytime, not surprising given the number of people now at home. We’ve even seen a small increase that coincides with the 9am start of Joe Wicks online workout class.

During the evening, network traffic remains pretty much unchanged. And still well below the more extreme peaks we experienced just before Christmas when Amazon live streamed multiple Premier League matches at the same time.

Last week in the North East, the busiest time for people accessing online content was between 8pm and 9pm on Tuesday evening, although Monday was the busiest day overall.

More than 1,100 of our people live and work in this part of the country and with our frontline engineers identified as designated key workers by the Government, you may still see our vans out and about.

Recently, we’ve seen an increase in incidents where our engineers are being subjected to mindless verbal abuse or intimidation linked to a bogus 5G theory.

It’s not only deeply concerning but totally misjudged. They’re playing a vital role in connecting crucial public services, vulnerable customers and millions of friends, families and businesses.

They are closely following government guidance in terms of social distancing and focussed on the repair and maintenance of connections that support critical national infrastructure.

This work includes the NHS – where our engineers have been installing and upgrading phone and broadband services in support of the new Nightingale hospital in Sunderland.

They’re also prioritising pharmacies, emergency services, retail and wholesale food distribution outlets, public services, vulnerable customers and those without any service.

We thank each and every one of them for their hard work and dedication in supporting the national effort during these unprecedented times.