To ask Her Majesty's Government what discussions they have had with churches and faith communities about the difficulties of obtaining broadband access for places of worship which do not have a postcode; and what plans they have to arrange a debate on this issue in the House.
The Government has been in discussion with representatives from the Church of England, in particular, regarding the issue of broadband access where places of worship do not have postcodes, or are otherwise missing from telecom provider databases. In some cases this leads to issues in identifying and providing service to such locations.
Over 31,000 premises are listed in relevant databases accessible to the Government as being used as places of worship. Of these, approximately 86% of premises used for religious purposes in Great Britain can access Superfast broadband speeds or better on fixed networks, compared to the UK average of 95%. Approximately 4% of premises used for religious purposes in Great Britain cannot access ‘decent broadband’ speeds of 10 Megabit/s on Fixed networks, compared to the UK average of 2%, largely due to their rurality. However, 4G data services are also widely available, and this reduces the number of such listed places of worship with no potential service to less than 0.2% of the total.
We are working with relevant stakeholders, including telecom operators (such as Openreach) and Ofcom, to ascertain the extent of this problem, and how many religious premises are still facing these barriers. This includes whether data used by operators is consistent with that available to the Government and to identify appropriate solutions, including ensuring that databases are up to date, but also that all broadband technology solutions that are available to places of worship are considered. Therefore, there are no current plans to debate the matter in the House.
We understand the importance for broadband access in places of worship to help improve connectivity for local communities, as well as practical benefits for such premises, including streaming services, security, and accepting contactless donations or administration.