Church offers spires as beacons for rural digital ‘not-spots’

Farmers and landowners will be hoping that a new deal between churches and the government will answer their prayers on poor rural connectivity.

An agreement between the Church of England and the government will see more mobile and wi-fi antennae fitted to church spires to improve broadband access and telephone coverage in rural areas.

Currently, there are more than 120 cases of broadband and mobile services being delivered from parish churches across the country.

See also: ‘Rutland is worst place for 4G in rural England’

These take a number of forms – from wireless transmitters in church spires and church towers, to aerials, satellite dishes and more traditional fibre cables.

The Church of England has just over 16,000 church buildings and two-thirds are located at the heart of rural communities, which means they are ideally placed to deliver improved digital connectivity.

Some of these churches, as well as other church properties and farm buildings, will be used to host digital infrastructure to help the government deliver on its commitment to provide good mobile phone coverage and internet services for all.

Culture secretary and Suffolk MP Matt Hancock said: “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.”

Tackle rural isolation

The Dioceses of Norwich and Chelmsford have been using spires to provide high-speed broadband to communities for more than five years.

The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Right Reverend Stephen Cottrell, said: “Encouraging churches to improve connectivity will help tackle two of the biggest issues rural areas face – isolation and sustainability.

“Our work has significantly improved rural access to high-speed broadband.”

There is the possibility that similar agreements could be made with other faith communities to include synagogues and mosques.

Telecoms watchdog Ofcom estimates that 17% of UK properties in rural areas cannot receive good broadband services, compared with only 2% in urban areas.

Too many people in the UK still struggle to get a sufficiently strong mobile phone signal – particularly in rural areas and on roads and railways. Only 19% of rural areas in Wales are covered by 4G, according to Ofcom.

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