Rural Businesses Suffering From ‘Unsatisfactory’ Superfast Broadband

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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The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) calls on the government to do more to improve rural broadband

The rural economy will suffer if the government doesn’t do more to bring superfast broadband to more parts of the UK, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has claimed.

New research conducted by the organisation has revealed that twice as many rural SMBs are more likely to be dissatisfied by their broadband service than their urban counterparts and suggests the problem will become worse as connectivity becomes increasingly integral to operations.

The FSB acknowledges that initiatives like the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) have gone some way to improving the situation for SMBs, but says just 16 percent have access to superfast broadband and that the target of providing 95 percent of the country with 24Mbps or faster by 2017 isn’t good enough.

Rural-urban divide

Rural-Britain-2-largeThis target, it says, leaves five percent of the country struggling with 2Mbps – speeds that are “barely sufficient” for even basic tasks like commercial email. The FSB argues that since one million businesses, 28 percent of all UK firms, are located outside urban areas, the £400 billion expansion of the rural economy is at risk.

“This research paints a worrying picture of a divided business broadband landscape in the UK, and unless addressed highlights a clear obstacle to growth in the coming years,” said Mike Cherry, national policy chairman for the FSB. “We risk seeing the emergence of a two-speed online economy resulting from poor rural broadband infrastructure.

“It’s worrying that as many as 14 percent of UK small firms still view the lack of a reliable broadband connection as being the primary barrier to their growth. A reliable connection is now viewed as a key business requirement by 94 percent of small UK businesses, yet continued poor connectivity in rural areas represents a huge missed opportunity for economic growth in many parts of the country.

“These gaps and weaknesses need to be addressed as a matter of priority with the minimum of 10 Mbps to all business premises by 2018/19, and a pledge to deliver minimum speeds of 100Mbps to all by 2030.”

BDUK has so far connected 1.5 million properties to the BT Openreach fibre network, but Ofcom says that no home or business should be left out of the rollout of superfast broadband, no matter how complex or costly such projects might be.

It says most households need speeds of at least 10Mbps and is considering increasing the minimum speed required under universal service agreements. The regulator is looking at ways superfast broadband can be delivered to remote areas not covered by BDUK using alternative technologies like LTE and satellite in a bid to improve coverage.

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