UK broadband not up to speed, says small business body

The UK needs better broadband infrastructure to serve small firms, says the FSB

The UK’s broadband infrastructure is letting down small firms and the government must commit to more ambitious speeds of at least 10Mbps for all, according to a report from the Federation for Small Businesses (FSB).

The FSB said a survey of 8,737 of its members found that 94 percent think a reliable internet connection is critical to the success of their business, and the government is not doing enough to meet this need.

A report from the FSB entitled The 4th Utility: Delivering universal broadband connectivity for small businesses across the UK explained the findings and called for numerous changes.

Chiefly, it said plans to ensure a connection of 2Mbps for all by 2015 are not enough, which Ofcom has admitted before, and speeds of 10Mbps for firms as a base is required, while a focus on fibre is also required to deliver top speeds.

“The government should revisit its offer to remote areas. This should be guided by a new commitment to deliver a guaranteed minimum speed or ‘service level floor’ of 10Mbps to all premises in the UK by 2018-19, regardless of location,” the FSB said.

It also said the government must prioritise the delivery of fibre to business parks to help deliver on a goal of 100Mbps for all by 2030, of which 5G mobile could also play a key role.

“Setting an ambitious target will send critical policy signals to investors and the market, and will demonstrate to the business community that their digital needs will be met,” the report said.

“The emergence of 5G offers significant potential, and although it will still require fixed backhaul – and hence is not a substitute for a fixed network – 5G is likely to play an important part in the future technology mix.”

The FSB also said businesses need to be given a better choice of services, and there must be improvements to minimum bandwidth levels, reliable connections and greater parity between upload and download speeds, at affordable prices.

A spokesperson for the DCMS told V3 that the report “doesn’t reflect the real picture” but said that it was right to place such an importance on broadband for businesses, as this is something the government is promoting.

“World class connectivity is one of our top priorities – UK Broadband is already regarded as being among the best in Europe, and Government’s nationwide rollout of broadband will deliver access to superfast speeds to 95% of the UK by 2017.

They added that the government will published a new Digital Communications Infrastructure Strategy by the end of 2014.

“This strategy will consider what more is needed from industry, Government and others to put in place the infrastructure to support a world leading digital economy in the UK over the next 10-15 years.”

The report was welcomed by some in the market, with CityFibre CEO Greg Mesch agreeing that ensuring better broadband for businesses is a must. “All the evidence shows that high-speed digital connectivity is essential to the success of small businesses. Around the country businesses are struggling to grow and compete, suffocated by a lack of bandwidth,” he said.

“Even those companies based in newly built business parks can often find themselves only able to access broadband speeds that would have residential customers on the phone to technical support.”

The report was published on the same day that the government gave its backing to an agreement between mobile operators and the National Parks England organisation to work together on boosting mobile coverage in remote areas.

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