Rural broadband coverage to be patched with transmitters on churches

High speed internet access is to be made available in out of the way parts of the UK thanks to a government deal struck with the Church of England, according to the Telegraph.

Thousands of churches across the country could soon be equipped with transmitters that can provide wireless connectivity to local business and domestic premises, overcoming some of the hurdles which are otherwise involved with installing fixed line services in isolated regions.

A church spire is often the highest point in towns and villages, making them an ideal structure on which to mount satellite receivers to provide the best possible coverage. And of course this means that there will be no need for additional masts to be built, saving the government money as it continues to move forward with plans for universal superfast broadband access.

Church spokesperson, Sir Tony Baldry, said that his organisation was ready and willing to assist the government in eliminating the digital divide which has been a much debated issue in recent months. He said that bringing faster broadband to the final 10% of premises in remote countryside communities was a serious challenge that would need to be overcome with projects like this.

He went on to point out that it was now down to politicians to take action and harness the Church’s willingness to work to wipe out connectivity not-spots since, at the moment, it is not obvious exactly where the worst affected areas might be and to what extent the installation of the proposed spire-based systems will be necessary.

The cost of rolling out the transmitters is expected to be taken on by network providers that manage to win contracts to make use of churches, with the initial investment set to be recouped over time, as customers sign up to use the resultant internet access. And because this solution will operate wirelessly, rather than requiring cables to reach each premises in an area, it should be less expensive to set up, as well as faster to roll out than fixed line equivalents.

Digital and culture minister, Matt Hancock, is scheduled to convene with high ranking members of the clergy later in January in order to discuss this matter further and presumably put plans in place to leverage the offer made by the Church.

One of the obstacles to the widespread use of spires for this purposes is a legal one, as the planning legislation for making this type of change to historic buildings is complicated. But the government is working on creating a standardised contract which will be applicable in all cases, thus streamlining the process even further.

Whether or not this move will indeed allow superfast broadband of at least 24Mbps to reach many more premises across the UK remains to be seen, as there are many more variables involved with the provision of wireless broadband than with fixed line services.

It is not just speed, but the overall consistency of connectivity that has remained a thorn in the side of rural businesses. Now even copper and fibre services are not entirely without issues in this area when being deployed in places that are off the beaten track.

It is hoped that the government’s decision to work with a greater number of small broadband providers will give places with poor connectivity a better chance of seeing improvements in the near future. This should also inject a little more competition into the marketplace, giving businesses more choice and also an opportunity to save money, rather than being presented with a single option for internet access.