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What's next for business broadband? FSB unveils its thoughts

6 min read

18 November 2016

With business broadband connectivity being a major problem for many across the UK, we asked the FSB for some insight into the space.

Despite the importance of fast business broadband many still lack access to modern connectivity. Ofcom reported last year that only 56 per cent of SMEs could get superfast broadband, compared with 75 per cent of residential homes. And despite plans to extend superfast broadband to 95 per cent of premises by 2017, Ofcom estimated that 18 per cent of businesses may be left behind.

One group that’s been campaigning for improvements is the National Federation of Self Employed & Small Businesses (FSB). Broadband Genie recently discussed the issues facing SMEs when it comes to broadband with the FSB’s senior policy lead, Will Black.

The fourth utility

In 2014 the FSB released a report titled “The 4th Utility: Delivering universal broadband connectivity for small businesses across the UK“. It was fairly critical, but also set out a number of recommendations for improving connectivity. One of the key points was that the government “commit to delivering minimum speeds of 10Mbps for business premises in the UK by 2018-19”. And in 2015 former prime minister David Cameron confirmed that a Universal Service Obligation (USO) of 10Mbps by 2020 would be written into law.

“We were quite critical of the availability of infrastructure” said Black, “but I think things have improved quite a lot since then. What’s important for us is the USO explicitly includes small businesses.”

But 10Mbps is fairly slow in 2016, let alone in 2020. Is this enough? Black thinks it’s a good starting point and “probably in line with where a lot of small businesses requirements are at the moment”. However it’s crucial that the USO is raised to stay in line with demand.

Quality and availability

That’s the future though. What’s the situation facing those looking for better business broadband now? The FSB identified two major problems: infrastructure and quality of service.

As the Ofcom report highlighted there’s a lack of availability for many businesses, especially in rural areas, as network operators focus on more profitable consumer markets in densely populated locations. Many businesses do not have access to fibre broadband and the only realistic option for a fixed line service may be an ADSL connection, which can be very slow for premises far from the exchange.

Satellite broadband is one solution that’s been put forward for the most remote businesses as it is not dependent on physical lines or even ground based wireless stations, but it has drawbacks (in particular suffering from very high latency, potentially a big problem for business use). The FSB is technology neutral and recognised the role satellite can play, but also said that it’s not “necessarily a completely suitable substitute for a fixed line connection for some small businesses”.

Read on for the FSB’s thoughts on promoting better business broadband.

Access to modern broadband infrastructure is a widely known issue, but quality of service is also very important and does not receive as much attention. Lengthy waiting times for fault repair and installation are potentially serious and could have very high costs for a firm left without access. “Any delays to the installation of broadband or leased line can have really detrimental effects on business” said Black. “These are businesses who absolutely rely on the internet and if connectivity is lost  for even a day that can be a significant revenue hit.”

Ofcom has promised to try to reduce the wait time for leased line installs, but only a very small number of companies use these specialised services so it’s not something that’s going to have a far reaching impact.

There are also wider issues to be tackled when it comes to helping businesses select the right broadband and to use it effectively and safely, something the FSB is keen to promote. Black said that “an increased recognition that this is challenging for small businesses would be helpful. I think the government could be working more with communications providers and with local governments and also with business groups like the FSB to identify what support would be most effective.”

Cybersecurity is also important. The FSB carried out research in 2013 showing the average annual cost for those affected by cybercrime was £4,000. Without additional support this figure will only continue to grow and could have very serious consequences.

Where next for business broadband?

The government’s commitment to a USO is an important step toward standardising broadband access across the UK, so no matter where a business is located they can be certain of receiving a minimum level of service. But this is still some years away.

This article is part of our Real BusinessBroadband campaign, which seeks to provide a mouthpiece for business leaders to vocalise the broadband issues preventing their businesses from reaching full potential. We’d love to hear your take on the debate and where you think the UK needs to make drastic changes. Get in touch via email (shane.schutte@realbusiness.co.uk) or join in on the action using #rbBroadband.