End of superfast broadband contracts – infrastructure update
Shropshire Council recognises the opportunities that improved digital connectivity provides to its residents and businesses. Since 2013, together with funding partners the Government and Marches LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership), over £36m of capital funding has been invested with a clear strategic objective to provide superfast broadband (30 megabits per second) to as many Shropshire Council area premises as possible.
The investment has always targeted those premises that would not have received an improved service from the commercial broadband provision, and therefore justified public funding.
Over the last 10 years superfast broadband coverage in the Shropshire Council area has increased four-fold from 24% to 98.5% of premises, as reported by thinkbroadband. This improvement clearly demonstrates the significant impact of the programme, particularly when set in the context of the challenges of deploying broadband infrastructure in such a large rural county.
Whilst impartial statistics (see Figure 1 below) show a positive programme outcome, Shropshire Council fully acknowledges the expectation of equitable broadband coverage to all premises, regardless of their location.
Figure 1: Comparing percentage of rural population and superfast broadband coverage in selected geographies:
Office for National Statistics: Rural Urban Classification (2011) of NUTS 3 (2015) in England
Whilst the increased coverage has been partly achieved by the natural evolution of the commercial marketplace, some 70,000 premises have directly benefitted from the three superfast broadband contracts that Shropshire Council has managed since 2013. The first two contracts were awarded to Openreach and completed in 2020, with the final contract being awarded and delivered by Airband. This contract closed in March 2023 ,bringing an end to the superfast programme managed by Shropshire Council.
Shropshire Council’s role in the next phase of the Government’s broadband programme has now changed. Whilst Shropshire Council remains a key stakeholder in the new Project Gigabit delivery model, it has no direct influence on the deployment strategy, management, or delivery of the new programme.
Project Gigabit is the Government’s flagship £5 billion programme to enable hard-to-reach communities to access lightning-fast gigabit-capable broadband. It targets homes and businesses that are not included in broadband suppliers’ plans, reaching parts of the UK that might otherwise miss out on getting the digital connectivity they need.
The £24 million Project Gigabit contract concerning premises in north Shropshire was announced by the Government on Wednesday 10 May 2023. Work is progressing on the contract concerning mid west Shropshire, and the approach for the rest of the county is still to be confirmed.
More detail on the latest stage of Project Gigabit in Shropshire can be viewed here: https://www.freedomfibre.com/post/major-broadband-upgrade-will-benefit-12-000-shropshire-homes-and-businesses.
Premises out-of-scope of the current Project Gigabit procurements may be eligible for the Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme (GBVS). Eligible rural premises can benefit from up to £7,000 of funding to access a gigabit-capable broadband connection to residential or commercial premises.
To date, Shropshire Council has committed £2.5 million of additional funding to ‘top-up’ the Government’s Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme. Without this added funding, the voucher values would be worth £4,500 per eligible premise. To check availability of vouchers and the list of registered broadband infrastructure suppliers, please go to: https://gigabitvoucher.culture.gov.uk
Robert Macey, Shropshire Council’s Cabinet member for culture and digital, said:-
“I am delighted to have taken over responsibility for a successful programme, and I know from personal experience how transformational access to a decent broadband connection can be. It’s right and proper that we continue to support a broadband strategy that retains a focus on upgrading those premises that are on the slowest speeds.
“Whilst the council’s direct involvement in the delivery of broadband infrastructure has ended, we welcome the opportunity to work alongside the Government and with broadband infrastructure suppliers to continue the success achieved locally.”
The Connecting Shropshire broadband programme is working with Building Digital UK (BDUK) to bring faster broadband to parts of the Shropshire Council area where it isn’t economically viable for commercial companies to do so.
Connecting Shropshire programme webpages: https://www.shropshire.gov.uk/connecting-shropshire