'Time to bury hatchet'

Small firms still struggling with poor broadband links

ultrafast broadband

Ultrafast fibre remains elusive to many small firms

Small businesses are being held back by poor broadband and mobile connections, according to new research by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). 

The findings, revealed in FSB’s new digital infrastructure report Lost Connection, show that a third of UK firms (33%) are struggling with broadband speeds that are insufficient for their current business needs. Two in five (40%) say their broadband is not good enough for their future needs.

Connections are said to be even worse north of the border with 38% of Scottish businesses saying that their broadband speeds are insufficient for their current needs and 47% expecting broadband links to fall short of requirements.

Call for politicians to work together

It has prompted calls from the FSB Scotland to call for ministers in Edinburgh and London to “bury the hatchet” about broadband and start working together.

FSB urges the Scottish Government and UK Government to develop a memorandum of understanding regarding the development and deployment of digital infrastructure interventions.

Andrew McRae, FSB’s Scotland policy chairman, said: “Most people in Scotland care more about the speed and reliability of their telecoms service, than whether industry, the Scottish Government, or the UK Government facilitated the connection. 

“That why we’re urging Ministers in Edinburgh and London to bury the hatchet on broadband and mobile. Local businesses, like many citizens, get frustrated when politicians point the finger rather than work together, that’s why we’re suggesting a new telecoms agreement to put aside historic disputes.”

The small business campaign group also urges the Scottish Government to publish a revised timetable for the completion of their universal superfast programme as soon as possible. Their call comes after Ministers revealed last week that BT is likely to complete a significant share of the programme north of the border, but contracts will not be signed until later in the year.”

FSB’s report also urges the UK Government to take action on mobile phone coverage. Official Ofcom figures show that availability of 4G mobile services in Scotland remains poor, with only 41% of the country’s geographic area receiving 4G coverage from all network operators.

Mr McRae said: “Scotland has been relatively poorly served by the mobile phone market. As UK Ministers make decisions about how this industry should serve communities in the future, they must make sure Scotland isn’t left behind.”

FSB claims connection issues are crushing the growth and productivity of small business owners across the UK, with more than one in three (32%) reporting poor mobile and broadband connection has prevented them from contacting or being contacted by existing customers – or even potential new clients. 

A similar number (30%) said poor connection is a barrier to growing their business, while over a quarter (26%) of small firms saying poor mobile coverage has led to a loss of business or sales. 

With over half (52%) of business owners revealing they want to adopt full fibre when it becomes available in their area, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s ambitious promise of nationwide full fibre or gigabit capable broadband by 2025 must be kept, according to the FSB.

It is calling on Government, industry and regulators to work together to remove barriers to the roll out of full fibre, to resolve the productivity puzzle and ensure no one is left behind.

The FSB is also calling for a public commitment from Government that every premises will receive download speeds of at least 10 megabits per second (Mbps) by the end of 2021, regardless of whether or not they have proactively asked to be connected under the Universal Service Obligation (USO).

The USO, which comes into force next March, gives residents and businesses the legal right to request a ‘decent’ broadband connection providing a download speed of at least 10 Mbps. However, FSB statistics show that almost a third (30%) of small firms in the UK are still grappling with download speeds of less than 10 Mbps. 

To help improve network coverage and attempt to get rid of ‘not spots’ in rural areas, FSB is supporting the idea of a shared rural network among the four large mobile network operators to try to bridge the gap in phone reception. 

Government must translate words into action to help millions of small businesses

– Mike Cherry, FSB

FSB is also calling for the scheduled spectrum band auction of both 4G and 5G take place without delay, which will help improve mobile reception. 

Mike Cherry, FSB National Chairman, said: “Government is promising ambitious full fibre and gigabit capable broadband targets, which are very much welcomed, but now must translate words into action to help millions of small businesses.

“There’s still a huge number of small firms not even getting download speeds of at least 10 Mbps – what is termed as a ‘decent’ connection. We need Government to fully commit to every premises receiving at least that by the end of 2021 by overcoming the infrastructure and market related issues that are preventing this.”

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