Sunday, 18 February 2018 18:48

Church spires to boost broadband

Written by  Ruralcity Media
Church spires to boost broadband

Church spires across the UK will be used to boost digital connectivity and broadband speeds in rural areas.

The decision follows an agreement between the government and the Church of England.

It encourages the Church of England to use its buildings and other property to improve broadband, mobile and WiFi connectivity for local communities.

    See also: Million homes lack decent broadband

Some 65% of Anglican churches and 66% of parishes in England are in rural areas.

Their locations at the heart of local communities mean they are often well placed to address connectivity and coverage problems.

The government said using churches, other properties and farm buildings would help everyone get good quality mobile connectivity where they live, work and travel.

    Signed agreement

The agreement was signed by the National Church Institutions (NCIs) of the Church of England, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and Defra.

Communities secretary Matt Hancock said: "Churches are central features and valued assets for local communities up and down the country.

"This agreement with the Church of England will mean that even a 15th century building can help make Britain fit for the future improving people’s lives by boosting connectivity in some of our hardest-to-reach areas."

Improved digital connectivity would bring a range of benefits to rural communities – including better access to online public services.

It would also improve social interaction between families and friends.

    Online presence

An effective online presence meant local businesses could extend their reach and better compete with other businesses.

Similarly, in the case of tourism businesses, it could better attract visitors to the local area.

The Dioceses of Chelmsford and Norwich are already supporting programmes which use church buildings to improve connectivity in rural areas.

It is hoped the accord will be instrumental in encouraging more local dioceses and parishes to positively consider how they can use their property in this way.

Bishop of Chelmsford Stephen Cottrell said: "We know that rural churches in particular have always served as a hub for their communities.

    Pioneering approach

"Encouraging churches to improve connectivity will help tackle two of the biggest issues rural areas face - isolation and sustainability."

The Diocese of Chelmsford has been pioneering this approach with County Broadband since 2013 – significantly improving rural broadband access.

In 2011, the Diocese of Norwich created WiSpire, a company seeking to use church towers and spires to enable Wifi connectivity in communities, especially in rural locations.

Hamish Macleod, director of Mobile UK, said mobile operators would continue to extend their use of churches to increase mobile coverage and capacity, while respecting the church environment.

    Rural opportunities

Rural affairs minister Lord Gardiner said the deal would help ensure people in the countryside had the same opportunities as those in urban areas.

He added: This initiative marks an important step in our continued drive to connect better our rural communities and bridge the digital divide."

Guidance set out by both the Church and Historic England ensures any telecoms infrastructure deployed does not impact on the character and architectural or historic significance of churches.

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