The U.K. government has signed an agreement with the Church of England that will see church spires across the country used to improve digital connectivity in rural areas.
The accord was signed by the National Church Institutions of the Church of England, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
It encourages the Church of England to uses its buildings and properties to boost mobile, WiFi and broadband connectivity for communities. The British government said that 65 percent of Anglican churches were in rural areas and that their locations, often in the center of communities, meant they were "well placed" to help solve problems surrounding connectivity and coverage.
"Churches are central features and valued assets for local communities up and down the country," Matt Hancock, secretary of state for DCMS, said in a statement Sunday. "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."
Two dioceses, Chelmsford and Norwich, are already backing programs that make use of church buildings to boost rural connectivity. The government said it was hoped that the new accord would encourage other parishes and dioceses to "positively consider" how they could follow suit.
Downing Street said that guidance from both the Church and heritage body Historic England would mean that any new telecoms infrastructure would not impact on the character or architectural and historic significance of churches.
The Right Reverend Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, welcomed the agreement. "It builds on what we have been seeking to do in the Diocese of Norwich since 2011 with the creation of WiSpire, a company seeking to use church towers and spires to enable Wi-Fi connectivity in communities, especially in rural locations," he said.
The bishop added that parish churches were a truly national network. "To use them creatively to create new forms of connectivity enhances their value for the communities they serve."