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UK to use medieval church spires to boost digital connectivity

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The U.K. government has signed an agreement with the Church of England that will see church spires across the country used to improve digital connectivity in rural areas.

The accord was signed by the National Church Institutions of the Church of England, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

It encourages the Church of England to uses its buildings and properties to boost mobile, WiFi and broadband connectivity for communities. The British government said that 65 percent of Anglican churches were in rural areas and that their locations, often in the center of communities, meant they were “well placed” to help solve problems surrounding connectivity and coverage.

“Churches are central features and valued assets for local communities up and down the country,” Matt Hancock, secretary of state for DCMS, said in a statement Sunday. “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.”

Two dioceses, Chelmsford and Norwich, are already backing programs that make use of church buildings to boost rural connectivity. The government said it was hoped that the new accord would encourage other parishes and dioceses to “positively consider” how they could follow suit.

Downing Street said that guidance from both the Church and heritage body Historic England would mean that any new telecoms infrastructure would not impact on the character or architectural and historic significance of churches.

The Right Reverend Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, welcomed the agreement. “It builds on what we have been seeking to do in the Diocese of Norwich since 2011 with the creation of WiSpire, a company seeking to use church towers and spires to enable Wi-Fi connectivity in communities, especially in rural locations,” he said.

The bishop added that parish churches were a truly national network. “To use them creatively to create new forms of connectivity enhances their value for the communities they serve.”

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Armin Laschet picked as new leader of Germany’s ruling CDU party 

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Candidate for the chairmanship of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union party, Armin Laschet, gestures as he takes part in a discussion at the party’s headquarters in Berlin on Jan. 8, 2021.

CHRISTIAN MANG / POOL / AFP) (Photo by CHRISTIAN MANG/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

FRANKFURT, Germany — Germany’s ruling CDU party picked Armin Laschet to be its new chairman on Saturday, possibly paving the way for him to replace Angela Merkel as chancellor at elections later this year. 

Laschet is currently the prime minister of Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia region, the most populous federal state in the country. He beat rival Friedrich Merz by 521 to 466 in a vote that was forced online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Born in 1961, he was first elected to the Bundestag (German Parliament) in 1994 and his election is seen as a continuation of Merkel’s policies, as he has pledged to keep the CDU firmly in the “middle of society.” 

With him as chairman, the CDU will likely stay on message and focus on more climate change policies and environmental topics. He has a strong Catholic background which brings him support from Christian circles within the party. 

He is a trained lawyer and also worked as a journalist at the time of German reunification between 1986 and 1991. He is seen as being very liberal and is popular with the immigrant community in his home state.

If he becomes the CDU’s candidate for chancellor at September’s elections, he could be open to various coalitions — power sharing is somewhat of a recent tradition in German politics.

He has floated the idea of a government alongside the liberals, the FDP, in a bid to win over parts of the business camp inside the CDU. But he is also seen as a natural fit for a coalition with the Greens too, as he is on good speaking terms with the party and favors environmental issues.

But the CDU’s candidate for chancellor will only be determined in the spring. And it’s not certain that the newly-elected chairman will automatically move into Merkel’s role. Markus Söder, the very popular Bavarian prime minister, and also Jens Spahn, the current health minister, may also join the race to lead Europe’s largest economy.

Merkel stepped down as leader of the CDU in 2018, and her replacement Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer quit in February 2020 after a series of communication mishaps exposed her as being too weak to lead the chancellery.

This is a breaking news story, please check back later for more.

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