Ofcom: New Broadband Code Of Conduct And Government Fibre Targets Will Aid SMBs

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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Ofcom wants SMBs to be able to switch provider if they don’t get good service and says government should set specific business superfast broadband targets

SMBs will be able to leave their broadband provider if they do not consistently receive the upload and download speeds they are promised under a new Ofcom code of conduct set to be published this autumn.

The communications regulator has called for the industry and the government to improve broadband services for smaller firms, 83 percent of which claim high quality connectivity is essential for their business to function.

While the vast majority of SMBs say they are well-catered for by the communications sector, some have concerns about speeds, coverage, and quality of service and the choice of providers.

Better business broadband

Fibre, network, broadband © Datskevich Aleh Shutterstock 2012BT, Virgin Media and TalkTalk, which account for the majority of business broadband connections, have signed up the code, which will also require operators to give indications of realistic speeds and guarantees to resolve technical problems that could impact performance.

Ofcom also wants the government to set explicit targets for SMB superfast broadband coverage. In June 2014, Ofcom said 75 percent of all UK properties had access to fibre, compared to just 56 percent of SMBs, and that when the existing 95 percent coverage target is met, around 18 percent of small businesses will be left out.

Many fibre deployments, including those part-funded by the government, are skipping business parks and Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) is prevented from intervening in urban areas by European regulations. This has resulted in the existence of urban ‘not spots’ where fibre coverage is absent because many large businesses opt for leased lines so deployment isn’t economically viable.

Other measures

The regulator also wants providers to let businesses pay for faster repairs, noting that although BT Openreach offers a service which fixers faults within six hours, many operators do not give customers the option.

“Small businesses are essential to the UK economy, and most rely on telecoms services to carry out their everyday work,” said Sharon White, Ofcom CEO. “But some companies lack the resources or expertise to get the services they need.

“We’ve made clear we want to see better broadband coverage, quality of service, information and advice for all consumers, and that means business users too. So we are taking action alongside industry and the Government to make that happen.”

A portal for SMBs was launched last year, offering businesses advice on how to choose a broadband provider and how to resolve complaints. Ofcom plans to improve this by reminding providers of their regulatory obligation to provide information on their website so businesses can compare and contrast packages.

“Ofcom’s business broadband report echoes what we’ve saying for a while: for too long Britain’s businesses have suffered from unreliable broadband access, low speeds and poor service,” TalkTalk told TechWeekEurope. “As we move towards becoming a truly digital economy it is more important than ever that businesses have a realistic expectation of their internet connectivity and bandwidth, and we look forward to working closely with Ofcom to make this a reality.”

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