Essex County Council has signed three new contracts with network operator Openreach to bring ultrafast fibre broadband to more than 3,700 homes and businesses under what it calls 'phase 4b' of the broadband programme.Work on upgrading 1,000 of the properties has been made possible by a £5million grant awarded from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Openreach, meanwhile, has confirmed 2,700 homes will benefit from a full fibre network upgrade as a result of its own commercial investment. Phase 4b is split into three separate contracts, which will include upgrades to some parts of the following local authority areas: 4b.4 will include parts of Brentwood, Chelmsford, Harlow and Uttlesford. Phase 4b.5 will include parts of Castle Point, Colchester, Maldon, Rochford and Tendring, and 4b.6 will include parts of Thurrock. Work is due to start in July 2020 and complete by March 2021 for 4b.4 and 4b.5. The additional network upgrades will add to the existing and planned superfast broadband coverage being enabled by the Superfast Essex programme, bringing the new total to be reached after all current plans are complete to 158,300 homes and businesses. Cllr Lesley Wagland, deputy cabinet member for infrastructure, and chairman of the Superfast Essex Steering Board, said: "This is fantastic news for Essex. Full fibre broadband is the next step in connectivity and future-proofed for years to come. It will help rural businesses to grow and thrive in the growing digital market. "It's great to know that residents in rural areas will also benefit from this new phase of work. Improved broadband connectivity brings with it better access to online public services and greater social and business opportunities all of which contribute to a better quality of life which is what we want for our residents." The Superfast Essex programme has so far enabled 125,000 homes and businesses to access superfast broadband in Essex with its network delivery partners Openreach and Gigaclear across 10 contracts, eight of which are still ongoing. Phase 4b will increase the total of live contracts with Openreach alone to eight.