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Ofcom Hopes to Improve Broadband Provision for UK SME Businesses

Thursday, September 4th, 2014 (10:58 am) - Score 702

The communications regulator has today spoken of its “concern” for small and medium sized businesses in the United Kingdom, which it fears may be struggling to get the best out of the available broadband and phone services. As a result Ofcom has set out a new plan that aims to both examine and tackle any related issues.

Ofcom’s own data shows that the majority (85%) of SMEs believe they are well served by the UK communications market, although they also found that many such firms have still experienced problems with their service. This is less of an issue for big companies, which in a highly competitive market can use economics of scale to their advantage.

Ed Richards, Ofcom’s Chief Executive, said: “While there have been developments in the range of services available over the past decade, we’re still not confident that SMEs are benefitting as consistently as they should be from high quality digital communications.” As a result the regulator has today touted its new SME Plan, which lists some of the measures they’re taking to address the problem.

Availability, competition and service

Promoting widespread availability of superfast broadband.
Ofcom’s autumn Infrastructure Report will assess the gaps in superfast broadband coverage for residential and business users in both rural and urban areas. Ofcom is already working closely with Government and industry to identify potential ways to fill these gaps. Better availability for SMEs as well as residential consumers is a priority.

Service quality and choice for SMEs.
Ensuring high quality of service and choice are priority areas for Ofcom. Earlier this year, Ofcom started its review of ‘business connectivity’, which looks at how well competition is working in the provision of dedicated connections known as ‘leased lines’; these are used by some SMEs. However, many SMEs have diverse needs and may use a combination of business and residential services. Ofcom is examining how the market is serving such SMEs, alongside the broader review of business connectivity, and will consider whether regulatory intervention is necessary.

Protections for SMEs.
It is important that businesses can navigate the market confidently, with effective protection and redress if things go wrong. Ofcom is reviewing how effective its consumer protection rules for telecoms (called ‘General Conditions’) are at protecting SMEs from problems like poor service and difficulties when switching provider. This review will assess whether the rules are providing the right level of protection for SMEs.

Support and research

Supporting businesses in rural areas.
Communications services like broadband and mobile can be particularly important for businesses in rural areas. Ofcom is working with its Advisory Committees in the nations to understand the experiences of small businesses in more remote parts of the UK. This will help shape future policies to support small businesses at local and regional level.

‘Contract checklist’ for businesses.
The first part of Ofcom’s SME Plan is a ‘contract checklist’ for business consumers. Published today, this guide offers advice on what businesses should look out for when taking out a new landline phone, broadband or mobile phone contract.

Business consumer portal.
Building on today’s guide, Ofcom will this autumn launch a web portal offering advice and support specifically for businesses. This will provide information on choosing a service provider, advice on resolving disputes and knowing your rights as a business.

Ofcom research on SMEs.
Ofcom’s work to help SMEs is underpinned by extensive research, which will be published later this year. This looks at satisfaction of communication services among SMEs; awareness of new technology and different suppliers; data on switching and complaints and the prevalence of problems experienced by businesses.

We should think that one of the biggest issues for SMEs is whether or not they’re covered by a superfast broadband (24-30Mbps+) network and getting that problem solved is perhaps worth more than half the battle. The government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) scheme, alongside other efforts by alternative network providers, should go a long way to addressing those issues.

In the meantime Ofcom has uploaded a somewhat general contract checklist for business consumers, which is a simple guide that offers “advice on what businesses should look out for when taking out a new landline phone, broadband or mobile phone contract“.

Leave a Comment
18 Responses
  1. Avatar john says:

    [Removed abuse]

    1. Avatar New_Londoner says:

      Good to see a well reasoned argument, with carefully considered content, worded to encourage further discussion!

      Alternatively, why do people posting this sort of nonsense bother to waste their time doing so? Surely the holidays have finished and they should all be back in school now learning GCSE English?

  2. Avatar New_Londoner says:

    Back on topic, I wonder if Ofcom will take into account those local authorities that chose to exclude business parks from their BDUK intervention areas?

    I can think of an example in the East Midlands where this was the case, and which has in turn left the businesses on those sites without fibre broadband, or having to pay well over the odds (close to £300 per month in one case) to persuade a niche local supplier to build a cabinet and provide a capped VDSL service.

    It would be good to see some reliable stats though. I bet it will show the FSB “research” to be very unreliable.

    1. Avatar gerarda says:

      I was told by a senior member of an LEP that BDUK instructions were to prioritise residential premises over business ones, as this enabled targets to be hit more cheaply. Of course the economic benefit of doing the opposite was not considered important

    2. Avatar MikeW says:

      It can’t be true of all BDUK projects. Those with ERDA funding have to spend that money on businesses.

    3. Avatar MikeW says:

      … and thinking about it, IIRC, the funding window for ERDF (not ERDA, doh) money closes earlier than the rest, so the projects using that money have to tend towards prioritising the rural businesses.

    4. Avatar gerarda says:

      Yes but does not apply to the general bulk of the funding, only to targeted areas

    5. Avatar fastman2 says:

      new londonder — nt good nt choice either in that view if an SLU

    6. Avatar NGA for all says:

      New_londoner why would BT encourage business parks to have FTTC when you have duct aavilable to support a transition to FTTP? Why put power costs into your network when you are presented with the opportunity to keep such costs out.

  3. Avatar Stephen says:

    As a sole trader running a rural photography business, I can tell you that it is extremely time consuming to perform many tasks, especially batch uploads. I have found it quicker to drive to the nearest city, park up somewhere and use 4G to do in minutes what would normally be an overnight task at home!
    But until someone pushes the ISP’s to provide services to areas that need it the most, the gulf between urban & rural will continue to grow and grow.

  4. Avatar Raindrops says:

    “Ofcom Hopes to Improve Broadband Provision for UK SME Businesses”

    I “hope” to win the lottery 2 weeks on the trot, that is not going to happen either.

  5. Avatar Jonny says:

    Privately owned business parks (which must account for the vast majority) should be receiving part of the blame here for not pulling in a 100Mbps line and reselling it to their tenants as a managed service. Just because their business model used to be based on owning some units and renting them out, and now and again repairing a car park doesn’t mean that’s appropriate for the modern world.

    1. Avatar fastman2 says:

      or they speak work doirectly with openreach to gap fund a cabinet on open access and max choice of service providers (managing agent then does not have t worry arund the traffic / management of the bandwidth issues or tech refresh — a number ob business parks doing this with openrreach directly

    2. Avatar NGA for all says:

      Fastman2 this looks at odds with advice your have previously given on this matter. The Openreach preference must be to deploy FTTP where duct in readily available, allowing you to minimise power costs.
      Using FTTC in this manner can be shown to block or delay a more efficient long term solution like FTTP, which allows you to remove legacy costs.

  6. Avatar 3G Infinity says:

    Be great if a ‘hope’ was actually turned into an actual – fed up with hope, only interested in outcomes.

  7. Avatar NGA for all says:

    They may yet accept the product definitions are out of date. – E.g. a ‘Functioning Broadband definition’ at 256Kbps on long line lenghts in city /towm centres points to the need for review to reflect what is now expected. Indeed the cost recovery regime assumes the final drop is replaced every ten years.
    Ofcom refused to address matter this in the Fixed Line Access review, but allowed for the possibility to be raised mid-term.
    This notion of fibre being a premium service from a regulated monopoly when it is just a medium is very peculiar and something that needs to be changed for this customer set.
    Busines Parks with duct – surely nothing but planning native FTTP is adequate or indeed efficient.

  8. Avatar paul says:

    Ofcom don’t want to know as you’s are the idiots why we pay line rental and when you have a problem its like talking to the wall so don’t want to know what yous have to say because you,s are as bad as bt openreach cowboys

  9. Avatar david says:

    Ofcom are useless paul they think they know everything but they don’t know nothing because they only out for themselves and no one else bunch of retards like the rest of the loons of BT

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