More and more of England's historic parish churches are to become home for telecommunications antennae as phone companies set up the third-generation mobile phone network which allows internet access.

One in four of the Church of England's 16,000 parishes have expressed interest in hosting masts or aerials on church spires for the line-of-sight network needed for the mobile phones.

Well-publicized, although disputed, safety fears have not dampened the enthusiasm of many churches, although some parishes are likely to be disappointed as church leaders adopt a cautious approach to radiation risks.

The Church of England's Archbishops' Council has received an initial 4,353 positive replies from churches interested in hosting mobile phone antennae, in contrast to 228 negative responses. The council now expects many churches to take part.

Some medieval cathedrals and churches already have antennae for the present, second-generation mobile phone network, but William Beaver, a spokesman for the Archbishops' Council, said they numbered "hundreds rather than thousands."

Churches have a powerful financial incentive to install antenna. Annual rental paid to parishes by telecoms companies may be 7000 to 8000 pounds sterling ($10 5000-12,000), according to Father Beaver. "It can make the difference between maintenance and mission," he told ENI.

The Archbishops' Council is a co-ordinating body for the Church of England headed by the church's two most senior prelates, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. It is inviting licensed third-generation telecommunications operators to tender for "approved status" to work with individual parishes, requiring a commitment to the Church of England's standards of conservation, access, environment and health ...

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