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Freedom Fibre Win Rural Shropshire Gigabit Broadband Rollout Contract

Wednesday, May 10th, 2023 (10:25 am) - Score 1,624

The eighth contract to be awarded under the UK Government’s £5bn Project Gigabit broadband rollout scheme – worth £24 million – has today been awarded to network builder Freedom Fibre, which will upgrade connectivity for “around” 12,000 hard-to-reach homes and businesses across rural parts of Shropshire (England).

The provider, which is supported by UK ISP partner TalkTalk, already has lots of experience with rolling out Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband infrastructure and are aiming to cover over 2 million UK premises (Coverage Map) – mostly focusing upon connecting towns and villages across Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Shropshire and North Wales. But this will be their first state aid funded contract under Project Gigabit.

NOTE: Around 75% of UK premises can already access a gigabit network (c. 45%+ via just FTTP).

By comparison, Project Gigabit aims to extend 1Gbps capable (download) networks to reach at least 85% of UK premises by the end of 2025, before hopefully achieving “nationwide” coverage (c. 99%) by around 2030 (here). Commercial investment is expected to deliver around 80% of this, which leaves the government’s scheme to focus on tackling the final 20% (mostly rural and some sub-urban areas), where the private sector alone often fails. The project is technology neutral, so it can be delivered via either “full fibre” FTTP, Hybrid Fibre Coax (HFC) or fixed wireless access (e.g. 5G) – but FTTP is favoured.

The project uses a number of different approaches to tackle this challenge (e.g. vouches and investment in dark fibre builds), but the largest part of the scheme involves a gap-funded subsidy approach – the Gigabit Infrastructure Subsidy (GIS). This is where smaller local or larger regional contracts are awarded to network operators and ISPs who can help to build their gigabit-capable infrastructure across the final 20%.

The Building Digital UK (BDUK) agency, which manages Project Gigabit, has already awarded a string of initial contracts to various ISPs (see bottom of article for a summary) and the eighth one – North Shropshire (Lot 25.02) – has today gone to Freedom Fibre. The 3-year deal is funded by £24m of public investment and aims to cover 12,000 rural homes and businesses (completion estimated by around mid-2026).

However, construction of the new network won’t physically start until February 2024 (allowing several months of engineering surveys etc.), but it will then be rolled out to communities around North Shropshire including Cockshutt, Hinstock, High Ercall, Bomere Heath, Hadnall, Cheswardine and Clive. The first properties could then start to go live from October 2024.

Sir John Whittingdale, Minister for Data and Digital Infrastructure, said:

“Thanks to £24 million in government support, thousands of rural homes and businesses across North Shropshire will benefit from Freedom Fibre’s lightning-fast, reliable broadband.

Delivering the Prime Minister’s priority to grow the economy, Project Gigabit is equipping regions like North Shropshire with state-of-the-art connectivity infrastructure and preparing them for the digital age, ushering in a new wave of opportunity and economic growth.”

Neil McArthur, Freedom Fibre CEO, said:

“We are delighted to be selected to deliver the latest full fibre broadband technology as part of the North Shropshire Gigabit project. Freedom Fibre is already delivering these services to rural homes and businesses across North West Shropshire and is pleased to be expanding our services to 12,038 homes and businesses in North Shropshire.

The project forms part of the government’s initiative to ensure a UK-wide rollout of full fibre to replace ageing copper networks. Investing £24m in the latest fibre technology, the project will end over 100 years of copper-based services and enable the delivery of high-speed full fibre to the UK.

Freedom Fibre is a network builder and will be working with several internet service providers and the local authorities over the next few years. Wherever possible we will be using existing underground ducts and overhead poles to minimise disruption.”

Freedom Fibre added that they also plan to invest thousands of pounds in a broad range of socio-economic and environmental projects across North Shropshire, including running its “Freedom Fund” (i.e. offering funding for good and green community-led projects within its build areas).

The announcement also noted that the operator’s full fibre network, which is being backed by an investment of £84m from Equitix and a £16m Santander debt facility, now covers “approximately95,000 premises passed (up from 40,000 at their last update in Nov 2022) and they have a goal to expand to over 150,000 properties through 2023.

Areas including Hampshire, Norfolk and Suffolk are said to be next in line for Project Gigabit contract awards by summer 2023, which seems to forget that we were also expecting a contract for Mid West Shropshire (Lot 25.01) to be awarded around the same time as today’s one.

Project Gigabit GIS Contract Awards History
Wessex Internet for North Dorset (Lot 14.01) in August 2022 (here)
➤ GoFibre for Teesdale (Lot 4.01) in September 2022 (here)
➤ GoFibre for North Northumberland (Lot 34.01) in October 2022 (here)
Fibrus for Cumbria (Lot 28) in November 2022 (here)
➤ Wildanet for Central Cornwall (Lot 32.03) and South West Cornwall (Lot 32.02) in January 2023 (here)
CityFibre for Cambridgeshire (Lot 5) in March 2023 (here)
Wessex Internet for the New Forest (Lot 27.01) in April 2023 (here)
➤ Freedom Fibre for North Shropshire (Lot 25.02) in May 2023 (here)

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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2 Responses
  1. Avatar photo anonymous says:

    Don’t fully understand this ISP. Overbuild galore on some of the areas they cover. For example, take one area, Manchester is going to have parts covered by Netomnia with their up to 10gbps symmetric offering.

  2. Avatar photo Delves says:

    Great news for the North of the county but what about 25.01 and the rest of Shropshire. What are BDUK doing about the really hard to reach areas?

Comments are closed

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