£100m 'gigabit' broadband pledge to benefit Shropshire areas

More than 66,000 homes in Shropshire will get access to superfast 'gigabit' broadband as part of a £104 million upgrade plan.

The scheme will be targeted at providing 'gigabit' broadband to around 66,000 properties in the county
The scheme will be targeted at providing 'gigabit' broadband to around 66,000 properties in the county

The development comes as part of the Government's nationwide £5 billion gigabit proposals, which will be used to target properties not covered by commercial access to gigabit broadband.

However the plans do not include speeding up internet speeds in towns such as Shrewsbury, where many areas are still not able to access ultrafast broadband due to a lack of capacity.

Instead the money is aimed at supporting rural "harder-to-reach areas".

In Shropshire the contract to connect properties will be worth anything between £61m and £104m – although the firm responsible for delivering it is unlikely to start work before 2023.

Shropshire Council's digital and technology portfolio holder, Councillor Rob Gittins, said he was 'pleased' at the announcement, and added that improved broadband connectivity is even more important in the wake of the pandemic.

With thousands more people expected to be working from home, faster broadband connections are set become an even more important part of the county economy.

The 66,700 homes in Shropshire are part of 1.85 million additional premises across 26 English counties that will get access to gigabit speed internet – equivalent to 1,000 megabits per second.

The procurement stage of the contract is expected to take place next year with the contract being awarded in 2023.

Rob Gittins, Shropshire Council's portfolio holder for digital, technology, data and insight, said: “Improving broadband connectivity has always been a priority for Shropshire Council, but it’s even more important in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

"I’m pleased to see that the Shropshire procurement will be the first to start in Phase 1b, with contracts due to commence in early 2023. The Connecting Shropshire broadband team will remain integral to the process and will work with BDUK to get equitable broadband coverage across the Shropshire Council area."

The gigabit speeds will allow users to download a HD movie in less than 30 seconds.

The investment is part of Boris Johnson's target of achieving at least 85 per cent gigabit-capable UK coverage by 2025, with officials stating that the Government is "on track" to meet the commitment.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: "Project Gigabit is our national mission to level up rural areas by giving them the fastest internet speeds on the market.

"Millions more rural homes and businesses will now be lifted out of the digital slow lane thanks to our mammoth £5 billion investment and one of the quickest rollouts in Europe.

"This broadband revolution will create jobs, power up businesses and allow everyone to access vital services at lightning fast speed, helping us build back better from the pandemic."

Rocio Concha, policy and advocacy director at consumer choice group Which?, said: "The coronavirus crisis has highlighted how vital fast and reliable broadband is, so it's good to see the Government prioritise more rural areas which have suffered for too long with poor internet connections.

"The Government should clarify when these communities will actually be able to benefit from these connections, as consumers are relying on the internet more than ever and improving connectivity will play an important role as we recover from the pandemic."

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