WiSpire church broadband scheme gets Broadland Council’s backing

A scheme to transmit wireless internet services from Norfolk's church towers could connect many more isolated communities after winning council backing in Broadland.

The Wispire project, a joint venture run by the Diocese of Norwich and Thorpe St Andrew-based service provider Freeclix, uses the height of historic buildings to beam high-speed broadband into surrounding homes and businesses.

After overcoming the health objections of charity ElectroSensitivity UK at an ecclesiastical court hearing in September, the project team has received interest from more than 300 churches.

Postwick, near Norwich, was the first parish to apply to have the equipment installed at All Saints' Church in a move which was welcomed by many villagers struggling with poor connectivity.

The resulting success stories have convinced Broadland District Council to investigate similar projects in a bid to solve the region's rural 'not spots'.

The authority's head of economic development Chris Hill said: 'We all know that the lack of fast, reliable wireless access is holding back many small companies based in rural areas.

'Having seen the Postwick project in action we are actively looking at whether the council can help establish WiSpire antenna on other churches within our footprint. It would provide a massive boost to the rural economy and allow businesses operating from villages and market towns the ability to compete with their urban rivals.

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'We are trying to identify the best churches in Broadland capable of serving a number of communities, covering thousands of residents and commercial operations, and finally providing a mechanism to plug those signal gaps.'

Osteopath Stella Archer, who runs her business from the grounds of Postwick Lodge, was among the first to register for the Wispire service, which gives download speeds of at least 6Mbps within a 5km radius of the church.

'Many of my patients use the internet to find me and e-mail me to make appointments, and not being able to respond quickly and professionally was very inconvenient,' she said.

'There's no doubt faster broadband has made my business more able to compete. It means being in a rural location is no longer a drawback compared to city-based companies.'

FreeClix managing director Steve Batson said WiSpire's network was designed to complement Norfolk County Council's Better Broadband project. The public-funded scheme aims to bring superfast internet to at least 90pc of the county by 2015, but Mr Batson said community-based networks could help reach the 'final 10pc'.

'It is very difficult to identify where that 10pc is going to be, but we are hoping to work in conjunction with the county council and the incumbent who will eventually win the contract,' he said. 'We hope we can play our part.'

nThe EDP-backed Say Yes campaign aims to prove the commercial demand for better broadband in Norfolk. Residents and businesses can register their support at www.norfolk.gov.uk/sayyesnorfolk, or by calling 0344 800 8023.

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