FBS: Broadband is essential for small businesses

Friday 11 September 2015

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has issued a call for internet service providers to guarantee a minimum broadband speed for all customers, after it was suggested that unreliable internet access may be hampering the success of small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), particularly those in rural areas.

FSB policy director Mike Cherry told the Financial Times: “Large numbers of small firms are using new digital technology to revolutionise the way they do business, but the market still has barriers stopping firms from seizing these opportunities.”

“The success of the digital revolution has led to ever higher expectations from businesses and consumers which at times the market struggles to deliver.”

The FSB has suggested that the minimum acceptable speed should be set at ten Mbps, slightly higher than the standard measure of basic access, which is six Mbps. Another idea was requiring providers to clearly state minimum speeds in their marketing materials, instead of the current focus on the fast end of the scale.

In a new report into the state of business access to broadband in the UK, the organisation revealed that 99 per cent of SMEs believed the internet was important to their commercial success. Over half of those cited in the report said that they were already offering online services, and a further 15 per cent planned to do so in the future.

However, only 36 per cent of respondents were aware that superfast broadband was available in their area.

The report comes in the midst of a government initiative to roll out broadband to 95 per cent of rural areas where providers do not consider offering superfast connections to be profitable. Homes and businesses included in the scheme have been promised a minimum 15 Mbps connection by the middle of 2017, but it is not clear what will be done to help the remaining five per cent of areas left in internet connectivity black spots.

This is a particular issue in isolated areas of Wales, northern England and Scotland. FSB North East regional chairman Ted Salmon told the Newcastle-based Evening Chronicle: “Large numbers of small firms are using new digital technology to revolutionise the way they do business, but the market still has barriers stopping firms from seizing these opportunities.

“The success of the digital revolution has led to ever higher expectations from businesses and consumers, which at times the market struggles to deliver.

“Business customers feel confused by the complexity of the market and struggle to assess how new services would benefit their business. A voluntary code of practice will help simplify matters and build trust between business customers and service providers.

“It will also allow small firms to better understand what services are available and how they can integrate these into their future business strategy.”

He emphasised the growing gap between businesses based in big cities and those in rural areas, and suggested that a minimum ten Mbps connection speed would a valuable tool in lowering the playing field for small businesses.


By Victoria McDonnell

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