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28 May 2018 Comments (0) Other, Technology

When churches are transformed into Wi-Fi hotspots

Combating digital deserts, thanks to… churches. A very British but ever so ecumenical idea.

After smart cities, are smart countrysides next? While rural areas still suffer from a lack of access to the mobile web, the British ministries for Digital and the Environment and the Church of England have entered into an agreement that aims to reduce blank signal reception spots, places that aren’t covered by mobile operators. The purpose: to provide better access to online public services and to develop the digital economy in the countryside, thanks to the churches that are located in the heart of the municipalities.

A fifteenth-century building to improve people’s lives? Churches attract the interest of the British government because of their strategic geographic location: “65% of Anglican churches and 66% of English parishes are located in rural areas. Their location at the heart of communities means that they are often well-placed to solve the problems of connectivity and coverage,” states the government’s press release.

In total, the Church of England has 16,000 churches and 12,500 parishes. More than 120 of them are already equipped with systems providing broadband: wireless transmitters, relay antennas, satellite dishes or fibre… A godsend for the British government because the problem is becoming urgent. While nearly a million British households still don’t have access to high-speed Internet, the contrast between the Internet in the countryside and the cities, equipped with 4G and optical fibre, is becoming an ever more urgent issue. So much so, that new residents in the countryside first worry about having 4G, before checking schools, because even rural economies depend more and more on digital.

Habitats that are too isolated

Very erratic speed, slow networks, difficulties in accessing online administrations… However, it is not an easy task to identify the deficit zones in detail. In Belgium, the map of blank signal reception areas made by the IBPT indicates 220,000 homes still don’t have fixed access to the internet, with a download volume of 30 Mbps/sec. In total, 39 Walloon municipalities are in blank signal reception areas. Not a single one in Flanders. So if 4G moves in mysterious ways, the solution may well be found at the top of the church tower.

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