The Church of England has signed a deal with the government to provide church spires as locations to install new 4G masts to improve mobile signal in rural areas.
Announcing the news, Secretary of State for Digital Matt Hancock MP said the move would boost the quality of mobile signal in the countryside as well as providing faster mobile broadband and WiFi internet for local people.
If the idea goes well, Hancock said his department would look at potentially linking up with leaders of the Jewish and Muslim faiths in England and Wales to see if synagogues or mosques could also host 4G mobile equipment.
65% of Anglican churches and 66% of parishes in England are in rural areas and their locations at the heart of their communities mean they are often well placed to address connectivity and coverage problems.
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- Matt Hancock MP: Secretary of State for Digital
Since 2011 the Church of England has allowed telecoms businesses to set up 4G masts inside crumbling and underused church spires.
Some parishioners have expressed fears that allowing private companies to take over church spires would mean a wholesale devaluing of the faith in England.
But church leaders say that decent mobile signal, broadband and WiFi are crucial for improving local life in rural areas.
And they say that an agreement between themselves and Historic England will prevent telecoms companies from installing any equipment that will “affect the character and architectural or historic significance of churches”.
The Bishop of Chelmsford, Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell explained: “Rural churches in particular have always served as a hub for their communities. 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. Our work has significantly improved rural access to high-speed broadband.”