The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has announced a new initiative which will see churches and other buildings used to improve broadband, mobile and WiFi connectivity for rural communities.
In fairness to Minister for Fun Matt Hancock and his DCMS cronies, this isn’t a bad idea. 65% of Anglican churches and 66% of parishes in England are in rural areas, and in most cases these buildings are located centrally in the community meaning they could be ideally located to address connectivity and coverage problems. The buildings could be used to host digital infrastructure to aid the government in meeting its commitment to deliver good quality mobile connectivity to everyone in the country irrelevant as to where they live, work and travel.
“Churches are central features and valued assets for local communities up and down the country,” said Hancock. “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.”
While it is not necessarily a new idea, rolling it out nationwide could have a very positive impact. Currently there are 120 examples of broadband and mobile services being delivered from parish churches across the country, from wireless transmitters in church spires and church towers, to aerials, satellite dishes, and more traditional fibre cables. But this is nothing more than a drop in the ocean compared to what could be achieved through the initiative. The Church of England has just over 16,000 church buildings in 12,500 parishes.
“I welcome this agreement,” said Rt Revd Graham James, Bishop of Norwich. “It builds on what we have been seeking to do in the Diocese of Norwich since 2011 with the creation of WiSpire, a company seeking to use church towers and spires to enable Wifi connectivity in communities, especially in rural locations. 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.”
The only thing which is more surprising than creative thinking from the government is the welcoming arms of the church in this example. There are some very unholy things on the internet and the church is now helping farmers access them.