Broadband to make Norfolk churches rural hubs
Churches across Norfolk are set to reinforce their position as community hubs with an innovative move to turn their towers into wireless transmitters in the quest to give rural communities access to high-speed broadband.
The Diocese of Norwich is responding to the challenge of improving internet access for rural communities through a joint venture with Freeclix.
Freeclix implemented Norfolk’s first wireless network over a decade ago, enabling businesses to use high speed leased lines.
The joint venture called ‘Wispire’ will use parish churches across the Diocese as the platform to deliver high speed reliable wireless broadband internet access to local communities (especially to areas where current speeds are very poor) supporting both business and residential customers as well as the potential for the delivery of services.
Churches have historically been at the heart of their local communities, especially in many rural areas, where the church is the only community resource left. Wispire will enable the church to re-establish itself as a community hub and WiFi hotspot available for everyone to use within its vicinity providing information about the church and the local community to tourists and other visitors.
Wispire will not only provide reliable broadband for rural communities but will help protect Norfolk’s rich heritage of medieval churches, their artefacts and structures from theft and vandalism through networked surveillance cameras monitoring the interior and exterior of the church.
Wireless networks are in everyday use and the government has recently announced the auction of the 4G spectrum next year which envisages even more data services being delivered over wireless networks.
David Broom, Director of Operations for the Diocese of Norwich, said, “This is an exciting new venture for the Church and one which will help us to serve our local communities, with the added benefit of helping to protect our church buildings from lead theft.
“We understand that despite the very many benefits, some people worry about possible health hazards. Wireless networks are in everyday use, and Wispire would seek to reassure people that the signal concerned is very low. Compared to the high power signals from a mobile phone mast or TV transmitter, our signal is measured in milliwatts and advice issued by the Health Protection Agency confirms that wireless networks are safe.”
Tests have already seen churches in rural areas receiving speeds of up to 17Mbps, and Steve Batson, joint managing director of Freeclix, said homes and businesses up to 6.5km from the towers could benefit from the signal.”
So far, five or six churches are lined up to join the scheme in areas such as Reepham and the Broads.
It is hoped every one of the 652 churches in the diocese – which covers most of Norfolk as well as the Waveney area of Suffolk – could eventually be part of Wispire.
The project would also bring in money: the joint venture would see Freeclix and Norwich Diocese sharing any profits.
Mr Broom said some of that money would filter through to the individual churches taking part to ensure they benefited too. He said: “We would hope to perhaps enable the churches to benefit from a small commission, subject to local take-up. That would go into helping them care for and maintain the churches.”