Freedom Fibre Win Rural Cheshire UK Gigabit Broadband Rollout Contract

The UK government’s £5bn Project Gigabit broadband rollout scheme has today awarded the £43 million (state aid) regional contract for Cheshire (Lot 17) in England to alternative network provider Freedom Fibre. The deal aims to extend their gigabit capable full fibre (FTTP) network to 15,000 additional premises in hard to reach rural areas.

Just to recap. Project Gigabit is working to help extend 1Gbps (download) capable networks to reach at least 85% of UK premises by the end of 2025, before aiming to achieve “nationwide” coverage (c. 99%) by 2030 (here). Commercial investment is expected to deliver more than 80% of this, which leaves the government’s scheme to focus on tackling the rest (mostly rural and some sub-urban areas), where the private sector alone often fails.

NOTE: c.82% of UK premises can already access gigabit speeds (up from over 72% at the end of 2022), which drops to around 65% when only looking at full fibre (up from 45%).

The project uses a number of different methods 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, larger regional or major cross-regional contracts are awarded to network operators who can help to build their gigabit-capable infrastructure into the most challenging areas (final 20%).

The Building Digital UK (BDUK) agency, which manages Project Gigabit, has already awarded a sizeable number of deployment contracts to various network providers and the latest one – Cheshire (Lot 17) – has today gone to Freedom Fibre, which will expand their network to cover over 15,000 additional premises in poorly served areas.

Freedom Fibre will now undertake a period of detailed design and survey work, with building work expected to commence during “early 2025“. The rollout will cover several remote villages, such as Kingswood, Allostock, Minshull Vernon and beyond.

The provider will also invest thousands of pounds in a broad range of socio-economic projects across the county, including running its ‘Freedom Fund’ that will offer grants to support people in Cheshire attend training courses or help them back into employment. As part of this, Freedom Fibre will offer apprenticeship opportunities to Cheshire based candidates to strengthen employment opportunities and bridge the skill shortage.

Neil McArthur MBE, Founder and CEO of Freedom Fibre, said:

“We’re delighted to have been awarded this contract, increasing full-fibre coverage across Cheshire and further strengthening our relationship with Building Digital UK and local authorities across the county.

This investment in full-fibre will end over 100 years of copper-based services and unleash untold potential for homes and businesses across Cheshire.”

Minister for Data and Digital Infrastructure, Julia Lopez, said:

“Homes and businesses in rural Cheshire not covered by broadband suppliers’ plans will get access to the fastest internet speeds available, thanks to this latest contract under the government’s Project Gigabit.

This government’s investment in lightning-fast upgrades will benefit hard-to-reach communities all over the county, boosting productivity in local industries and helping households to stream, work and play without a hitch.”

The deal represents Freedom Fibre’s second contract under the national broadband project, which comes after they were awarded the £24m contract to cover around 12,000 premises in North Shropshire (Lot 25.02) – this one recently entered the deployment phase (here).

Equitix-backed Freedom Fibre currently covers 300,000 premises with their 10Gbps capable XGS-PON powered Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network. Consumers are able to access this via a variety of different ISPs, including TalkTalk, Yayzi, Squirrel, Fusion Fibre, MTH, Octaplus, Link and Beebu alongside LilaConnect.

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)
➤ CityFibre for Norfolk (Lot 7), Suffolk (Lot 2) and Hampshire (Lot 27) in July 2023 (here)
➤ Gigaclear for South Oxfordshire (Lot 13.01) and North Oxfordshire (Lot 13.02) in Nov 2023 (here)
➤ Connect Fibre for North East Staffordshire (Lot 19.01) in Nov 2023 (here)
➤ Connect Fibre for Derbyshire (Lot 3) in Dec 2023 (here)
➤ CityFibre for Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire & East Berkshire (Lot 26), Leicestershire & Warwickshire (Lot 11), West & East Sussex (Lot 16 & 1), Kent (Lot 29) and Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire & Milton Keynes (Lot 12) in Feb 2024 (here)
Connexin for Nottinghamshire & West Lincolnshire (Lot 10) in Feb 2024 (here)
➤ Quickline for West Yorkshire and York Area (Lot 8) in Feb 2024 (here)
➤ Gigaclear for East Gloucestershire (Lot 18) in Feb 2024 (here)
➤ Wessex Internet for South Wiltshire (Lot 30) in Mar 2024 (here)
➤ Quickline for South Yorkshire (Lot 20) in Apr 2024 (here)
➤ FullFibre for West Herefordshire and the Forest of Dean (Lot 15) in Apr 2024 (here)
➤ FullFibre for Peak District (Lot 3.01) in Apr 2024 (here)
➤ Wessex Internet for Dorset and South Somerset (Lot 14) in Apr 2024 (here)
➤ Wildanet for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (Lot 32) in Apr 2024 (here)
Voneus for Mid West Shropshire (Lot 25.01) in Apr 2024 (here)
➤ Freedom Fibre for Cheshire (Lot 17) in May 2024

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