Church spires are going to be used to boost digital connectivity in rural areas, following a deal between the Church of England and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
The plan opens up ecclesiastical properties as a way to to improve broadband, mobile and wi-fi connectivity for local communities, say the partners.
That could be significant for the on-going issue of countryside ‘not spots’ – as 65% of Anglican churches and 66% of English parishes are in rural areas. The Church of England has just over 16,000 church buildings in 12,500 parishes.
Plus, their locations “at the heart of their communities” mean they are often “well placed to address connectivity and coverage problems”, says the government.
There are already more than 120 cases of broadband and mobile services being delivered from parish churches across the country. These take a number of forms – from wireless transmitters in church spires and church towers, to aerials, satellite dishes, and more traditional fibre cables.
“This agreement 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,” claimed DCMS Secretary of State Matt Hancock.
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“Rural churches in particular have always served as a hub for their communities [so] encouraging churches to improve connectivity will help tackle two of the biggest issues rural areas face – isolation and sustainability,” said the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, The Bishop of Chelmsford, while the Bishop of Norwich, Rt Revd Graham James, added that, “Our parish churches are a truly national network, and to use them creatively to create new forms of connectivity enhances their value for the communities they serve.”
“Clear guidance” will be set out by both the Church and Historic England ensures that any telecoms infrastructure deployed does not impact on the character and architectural or historic significance of churches.
And under the accord, the government has also pledged to provide advice for parishes and dioceses to enable them to consider supporting digital connectivity and to develop the necessary skills for digital infrastructure projects.