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Archant invests in rural church tower broadband service

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Archant has launched a commercial partnership with the Diocese of Norwich, under which WiSpire, a local provider of high-speed broadband, will gain increased support to accelerate the roll-out of rural broadband across Norfolk.

The partnership will see Archant leverage its unique strengths and connections with the community in an agreement which includes investment, infrastructure, commercial strategy and marketing services and join forces with the Diocese of Norwich which established WiSpire four years ago.

Archant’s Chief Executive, Jeff Henry, and Chairman, Simon Bax, join the WiSpire board with immediate effect. In addition to Archant's investment, the business will provide a number of services to WiSpire including marketing support across Archant’s local media portfolio which reaches 85% of the Norfolk population every month. It will also provide infrastructure support in the form of office space and back office services to the WiSpire business. The first wave of activity, following this announcement, is service expansion in WiSpire’s current locations, followed by extension of its geographical footprint.

In an adventurous move to provide much-needed broadband services in hard-to-reach areas of Norfolk and North Suffolk, the Diocese of Norwich established WiSpire in 2011, servicing rural customers in a number of areas in Norfolk through wireless broadband transmitters attached to the spires of local churches. High-profile supporters of the initiative include Lord Lloyd-Webber who called for every church to be a WiFi hotspot earlier this year.

Bishop of Norwich, The Rt Revd Graham James, said: "WiSpire is a great concept which has worked well, using community buildings - our churches - to benefit all people in the community with speed of access to the internet, increasingly needed by us all. WiSpire needs further development and I'm delighted that Archant see the potential for WiSpire in the years to come."

Jeff Henry, Archant Chief Executive, said: “We have a powerful opportunity to build on the trust our business has with our local communities in dynamic and innovative ways. We will bring our marketing talent, our commercial acumen and our understanding of the community to WiSpire with the goal to accelerate rural broadband growth. This is the first of a number of partnerships that present new revenue opportunities for our business, beyond the traditional media business model. We want to build successful initiatives with like-minded businesses and organisations that play important roles at the heart of our community.”

Simon Bax, Archant Chairman, said: “I am hugely proud to see our business join with one of our great local institutions around a service area critical to our community. We share the vision of the Diocese to bring the benefits of technology to rural communities and I know the combination of our respected values, skills and ambitions will make this new venture a resounding success. I look forward to seeing our communities have increased access to rural broadband.”

Richard Butler, Diocesan Secretary/Chief Executive of the Diocese of Norwich said: “Broadband access is critical to all consumers and businesses in our region. This new investment from Archant is incredibly exciting for our business and I am certain they will prove to be a great commercial partner. We are well set to achieve our business objective of providing connectivity in so-called “Not-spot areas” that are not supported by other providers. We think the combined efforts of these two pillars of the community will make a real difference to the broadband connectivity of Norfolk homes, businesses, schools and churches.”

© Archant Ltd 2013