UK fibre network Freedom Fibre has won a £24m government contract to provide lightning-fast gigabit-capable broadband to hard-to-reach communities across the UK.

The Manchester-based startup was founded by telecoms network entrepreneur Neil McArthur, who pioneered broadband and fibre networks in the UK including rolling out TalkTalk’s nationwide footprint.

This new three-year contract is part of the UK government’s £5bn Project Gigabit and will see thousands of homes and businesses in Shropshire benefit from high-speed full-fibre broadband.

Freedom Fibre CEO Neil McArthur 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.

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“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 is expected to start network construction in February 2024, with the first properties potentially connected to lightning-fast broadband as early as October 2024.

The award supports the government’s priority to grow the economy, creating better-paid jobs and opportunity across the country.

Freedom Fibre will invest thousands of pounds in a broad range of socio-economic and environmental projects across North Shropshire including running its ‘Freedom Fund’ that offers funding for good and green community-led projects within its build areas.

Minister for Data and Digital Infrastructure, Sir John Whittingdale, said: “Thanks to £24m in government support, thousands of rural homes and businesses across North Shropshire will benefit from Freedom Fibre’s lightning-fast, reliable broadband.

“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.”

Councillor Robert Macey, Shropshire Council cabinet member with responsibility for Culture and Digital, said: “This £24m investment is great news for communities and businesses in Shropshire as gigabit-capable broadband further enhances our ability to be a digital county. Improved digital infrastructure remains a top priority for Shropshire Council given its significant economic and social benefits and we look forward to seeing Freedom Fibre progress this exciting infrastructure project.”

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By the end of 2025, the government is targeting 85 per cent of the UK to have gigabit-capable connectivity, and then nationwide coverage by 2030.

Areas including Hampshire, Norfolk and Suffolk are all in line for contract awards by summer 2023.

Freedom Fibre offers lightning-fast broadband to towns and villages across the North West with approximately 95,000 premises passed and a goal to expand to over 150,000 properties through 2023 in its ambition to achieve a contiguous network serving 2m properties.