Churches Step In To Deliver Superfast Broadband To Rural Somerset

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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Diocese of Bath and Wells is concerned rural communities will be excluded from BDUK and wants to help

A new parish-led community broadband project in Somerset is to use churches as wireless access points to provide superfast broadband to areas excluded from the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK)-funded Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) project.

The Diocese of Bath and Wells is concerned that CDS’s current target of covering 90 percent of thwe two counties by 2016 will isolate a number of rural areas that need connectivity. So far, CDS has connected more than 600 cabinets and 170,000 properties to the Openreach fibre network and is England’s largest BDUK deployment

“Whilst the progress made so far by CDS is commendable, what of the remaining 10 percent? They are likely to be those in the most rural areas,” said Richard Tulloch, church use and visitors adviser at the Diocese.

Church superfast broadband

Somerset 1The Diocese says it has been working on the project for two years and is planning two pilots of fixed wireless technology in Ashbritte and Levels. Access points will be attached to the exterior of the church and will connect to local provider Wild West Net’s wireless broadband network with the intention of relaying the signal to other properties and other churches.

“Our churches exist to serve everyone in the local community and be at the very heart of community life,” added Tulloch. “There is no better way to demonstrate this than using our towers – typically the tallest buildings in rural areas – to complement the roll out of superfast broadband in our county.”

CDS has handed £4.6 million in BDUK funding to a separate fixed wireless project covering the Dartmoor and Exmoor national parks. Rival provider Airband will bring superfast speeds to 5,800 homes and businesses, with local leaders saying the wireless approach was more suited to cover the difficult terrain of the parks.

BDUK has so far connected three million premises to fibre and is targeting 95 percent coverage by 2017. The government has committed to connecting the ‘final five percent’ by the end of parliament using ‘alternative’ technologies such as LTE and satellite but beyond some trials, no technological or funding mechanisms have been discussed.

Earlier this week, Openreach CEO Joe Garner said finding technical solutions that could connect the last one or two percent of properties was “really difficult”, rejecting suggestions BT was simply unwilling to invest in areas not covered with fibre.

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