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The second phase of the £26 million Connecting Shropshire project, which aims to bring fibre broadband connectivity to 93 per cent of the county by spring 2016, has been given the go-ahead.

The initial plan, which was part of the government's Broadband Delivery UK scheme, was to ensure that up to 130,000 premises across Shropshire receive minimum internet speeds of 2Mb; faster than the speeds previously available to 17.1 per cent of the county.

However, organisers have warned that the new Superfast Extension Programme (SEP) contract will be significantly smaller in scope than initially hoped.

BT initially pledged a total of £8.6 million to the project in 2013, along with another £8.2 million from Shropshire Council, while BDUK had provisionally allocated £11,380,000 to the scheme last year.

Yet the signing of the second phase of the project has shown that BDUK has actually only been contracted £4,725,209.

Phase One of the contract has already installed around 180 new Street Cabinets in 43 telephone exchange areas.

Some 34,365 additional homes and businesses have already benefitted from the work, which when completed should cover 63,000 premises.

But funding continues to be an issue, with cuts to Shropshire County Council's budget heightening difficulties in matching the government's contribution.

The Marches Local Enterprise Partnership has been called on to help out with investment, putting the value of this most recent extension at around £10 million.

The true value of BT's contribution to the latest phase of the project has yet to be confirmed.

Keith Barrow, Shropshire Council’s Leader, said: “We will continue to explore opportunities for additional funding should the need arise. We are currently concluding our Phase 2 procurement and will then start a process using remaining secured funding to undertake further procurement processes as soon as possible.

"It remains a clearly sensible strategy for the authority, at a time of financial constraint, to be clear what the current funding can procure for any remaining unserved areas before we commit additional funds."

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