The Church to help bring much-needed superfast broadband to rural Uttlesford

Church towers could be used to bring much-needed superfast broadband to remote communities in Uttlesford.

The Rev Dr Julie Nelson, who is rural officer at the Diocese of Chelmsford, believes 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 said because of their height and strategic position, church towers 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.

“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,” Dr Nelson said.

“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.”

Essex County Council has published its £24.6million proposal for rolling out superfast broadband – quantified as a minimum of 24 megabytes per second – to homes and businesses in partnership with communications company BT.

But, according to Dr Nelson, there are still likely to be gaps in the coverage, particularly in rural areas. That is where the Church comes in.

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She added: “We aren’t knocking what BT are doing but there will be gaps scattered across Essex where people still won’t receive a good broadband service – as much as 13 per cent 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.

Chief executive Lloyd Felton said: “A project has already commenced in Arkesden and we’re very pleased to have more enquiries coming in from Uttlesford as part of our network building. If there are any churches or communities interested in the service we can offer then please get in touch.”

In Arkesden, the parish council is in the process of working with County Broadband to deliver internet services to users from a transmitter attached to the church tower. Volunteers will shortly set out to establish demand from the village, with at least 30 per cent of households already behind the project.

Clerk Steve Coltman said: “We had a meeting and there was a lot of interest from people in the village because our broadband service is terrible. We’ve looked at what Essex is trying to provide and the chances of us getting a high speed network before 2017 at the earliest seems pretty remote.

“That is why we’ve gone down this route and I can’t see why other villages in the district are not knocking on County Broadband’s door asking them for a similar system.”

He added: “In rural villages like ours there is a high demand from people wanting to work at home, which just isn’t possible currently, and it won’t be long before young people won’t move to somewhere that doesn’t have superfast broadband.

“The transmitter is very unobtrusive and is so small you it could fit on your TV aerial and you wouldn’t know it wasn’t part of it.”

• Communities interested can call County Broadband on 0845 686 5000.