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The Church of England has reached an agreement with ministers on a scheme that could boost broadband and mobile connectivity in rural areas.

According to official figures, 65 per cent of Anglican churches and 66 per cent of English parishes are situated in rural areas and sit at the heart of their communities.

Ministers therefore believe they could be ideal for hosting digital infrastructure and resolving connectivity and coverage problems in these locations.

Under the agreement, the Church of England will be encouraged to use its buildings and other property to improve Wi-Fi, mobile and broadband connectivity for local people.

Ministers believe this will give rural communities better access to online public services, improve social interaction with family and friends and help local businesses extend their reach and online presence.

Furthermore, the government stated that enhanced connectivity would deliver better access to skills and training, which could open up new job opportunities, improve productivity and boost the wider local economy.

However, the accord states that any telecoms infrastructure must not impact on the character and architectural or historic significance of churches.

Matt Hancock, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, commented: "Churches are central features and valued assets for local communities up and down the country. 

"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."

Rural Affairs Minister Lord Gardiner added that it is "vitally important" for rural communities to have the same opportunities as their counterparts in urban areas.

"That means having strong mobile and broadband infrastructures in place," he stated.

"This initiative marks an important step in our continued drive to connect better our rural communities and bridge the digital divide." Agreement builds on previous successes This approach has already been pioneered in the Dioceses of Chelmsford and Norwich, with considerable success.

The government and the Church of England therefore hope this agreement will lead to more local dioceses and parishes following their lead.

Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, the Bishop of Chelmsford, noted that the work in his diocese has "significantly improved rural access to high-speed broadband" over the last five years.

"Many new forms of technology are available to improve internet access in rural areas and I hope that this partnership between the Church of England and the government will help rural churches consider how they can be part of the solution," he commented.

The Bishop of Norwich, Rt Revd Graham James, added that parish churches are a "truly national network".

This, he said, means using them to create new forms of connectivity "enhances their value for the communities they serve".

The government is also considering the possibility of reaching similar agreements with other faith communities that have similar estates.

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