FREE wireless internet access was switched on in Highworth.

Highworth is the first part of the Swindon borough to get the free internet service being offered by the council through newly-formed company Digital City UK.

Caroline Spelman, shadow secretary of state for communities and local government, visited the town to switch on the scheme and was one of the first to go online.

She said: “I consider myself very lucky to be here and Swindon is a very lucky place. What better Christmas present can you possibly give to the community than free access to broadband.

“We want to see a flowering of this all over the country.”

Rikki Hunt, who is running the project alongside the council and IT company aQovia, said between 8,000 and 9,000 people could potentially sign up for the free broadband in Highworth.

He said: “They will try it anyway because it is free. Highworth is a dreadful place for connectivity.

“The network is up in Highworth and the majority of Highworth is covered. “Over the coming days when we get feedback from everyone using the service, they will be able to tell us if there are blackspots here and there.”

AQovia director Mustafa Arif said: “It has been hectic but we have had a lot of good will and support from the community, which has been terrific in helping us get here. The weather hasn’t been very kind to us in the last couple of days. Some of the guys have been putting access points up in sleet conditions.

“Once Highworth is done and dusted we will look at what we have learnt and what it means for the whole of Swindon.

“My hope is people will use the service and find it useful and we are able to learn a lot about how people use it and what they find beneficial.”

Mr Arif said 15 of the 22 access points currently installed on Highworth lampposts were fully operational and another 21 are expected to go up.

Digital City UK plans to sell products including 24-hour internet connections, energy monitoring and CCTV next month in order to make the scheme financially feasible.