Business broadband 'not up to speed'

A business group has confirmed what contractors have long suspected -- that the UK’s internet infrastructure is not “fit for purpose” and is causing problems for enterprises “in all corners” of the country.

Delivering these findings, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said that the solution was for the government to adopt bolder targets for rolling out high-speed connections across the UK.

The current targets -- of 24Mbps for 95% of the population and 2Mbps for the remaining five per cent – “will not meet the future demands of UK businesses,” the FSB warns in a report on the issue.

Instead, a new target should be drawn up, committing the government to provide all business premises in the UK with minimum speeds of 10 Mbps by 2018–19, regardless of location.

Alongside this more ambitious goal, the report urges the government to set a medium to long-term objective of providing minimum speeds of 100 Mbps to all premises by 2030.

“By way of comparison,” reflected the FSB, “Denmark is committed to offering universal access of 100 Mbps to its citizens by 2020, while South Korea has a target of 1000 Mbps (1 Gbps) for 90 per cent of its population by 2017.”

On top of the bolder set of targets, the business group wants the broadband market to be reformed; the roll-out of superfast broadband to be prioritised for business parks and a new approach to connecting rural areas.

The latter issue, which has been raised by freelancers’ group PCG, appears pressing given that broadband coverage outside of towns and cities is either “poor or non-existent,” the federation found.

It adds that 45,000 businesses are still using dial-up connections and “many more” firms, even in London, are receiving “poor service” from their provider, in contrast to residential users, who have seen “progress”.

In fact, even in areas where households have high-speed broadband, some businesses “still struggle to send digital invoices, upload large files or even communicate with clients via the internet.”

And only 12% of businesses seem to be unaffected, in that they have the fastest, fibre-optic connections – which the FSB says companies in ‘enterprise zones’ should be offered if they are to succeed in spurring local growth.

“Too many of our small firms are held back by the current state of the broadband market in the UK,” said FSB National Chairman John Allan.

“We want government to oversee the creation of world-beating digital infrastructure that will enable businesses to grow, innovate and compete in international markets. This means not only raising download speeds but also upload speeds that are so important and where provision is especially inadequate.”

If the government fails to respond, he believes companies' growth ambitions will be blunted while ongoing efforts to get every firm to go ‘digital by default' when filing taxes online will be “impossible to achieve.”

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Written by Simon Moore

Simon writes impartial news and engaging features for the contractor industry, covering, IR35, the loan charge and general tax and legislation.
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