Essex: Church offers up use of towers to help improve broadband speeds in rural villages

Could a broadband mast be added to Dedham church?

Could a broadband mast be added to Dedham church?

The Church could help bring much-needed broadband to some of the most remote communities in Essex, officials have said.

The Rev Julie Nelson, who is rural officer at the Diocese of Chelmsford, says the Church is ideally placed to help villages who are a long distance from telephone exchanges or have too few residents to be an attractive proposition to commercial broadband providers.

She says because of their height and strategic position, some of the 500 church towers across Essex could be used to transmit wireless broadband to hard-to-reach communities and that the diocese has already invested in a company that has technology to do this.

She said: “The Church is interested in community health and community resilience and today an essential requirement for any community is broadband – it’s the fourth utility.

“Young families are choosing not to live in areas where broadband service is poor and local businesses are considering moving out – trends that threaten the long-term sustainability of rural communities.”

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Mrs Nelson’s comments come a fortnight after Essex County Council published its plans for rolling out superfast broadband in partnership with communications company BT.

The authority expects superfast broadband of up to 38 megabits per second (Mbps) to be delivered to thirty business parks and around sixty-five thousand premises in the county by summer 2016, with all other areas, including large swathes of rural north Essex, receiving a minimum 2MBps speed connection.

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This scenario offers the Church an opportunity to offer internet services to those who fall through the “gaps”, according to Ms Nelson.

She added: “We aren’t knocking what BT are doing but there will be gaps scattered across the county where people still won’t receive a good broadband service – as much as 13% of people could still be in this position.

“It could be the case that half a village might get a good service and half might not and because we are right on the ground in the community we will know where the gaps are and where we can help.”

The company the diocese has invested in is called County Broadband based at Aldham near Colchester. The firm has already appeared on Songs of Praise and is in the final stages of developing a network that is expected to deliver a wireless broadband service of 32 Mbps across north Essex and southern part of Suffolk.

Chief Executive Lloyd Felton said: “We were very pleased to be selected by the Diocese of Chelmsford and have been working closely with the chancellor and chief executive to extend the delivery of rural broadband through a network of churches in Essex.

“Our service already reaches into more than 60 rural parishes providing high-speed broadband to some of the county’s most remote areas and because its wireless it doesn’t require a telephone line.”

At the parish of Little Horkesley, church warden Chris Orme is in the process of working with County Broadband to deliver internet services to users from a transmitter attached to the church tower and is awaiting faculty permission to install the equipment.

He said: “The broadband service here is patchy - we call it narrow band. There is significant demand for a better service from many of the agricultural businesses here as well as people in the community.”

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