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BCC Survey – Poor Quality Rural Broadband is Holding Back UK Businesses

Monday, March 27th, 2017 (9:30 am) - Score 639

A new survey of 1,465 business people from all regions of the UK, which was conducted by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), has claimed that 18% suffer from unreliable Internet connections and firms in rural areas are “at least twice as likely to have unreliable connections” (30%).

Overall 96% of the businesses surveyed were Small & Medium Sized Enterprises (SME), with 22% operating in the manufacturing sector and 78% operating in the services sector. Generally 99% of the respondents agreed that a reliable broadband connection was important (82% rated it “extremely important“), yet nearly one in five claimed to suffer from unreliable connections (11% not very reliable; 7% not at all reliable).

The news is particularly bad for rural areas, where 30% of respondents suffered from unreliable connections compared with those in towns (15%), inner cities (13%) and suburban areas (12%). Likewise some 24% of sole traders and 21% of micro-businesses reported unreliable connections, which is perhaps to be expected given that they’re much more likely to depend upon ordinary domestic-grade connectivity solutions.

Dr Adam Marshall, Director General of the BCC, said:

“Business communities across the UK still report that our digital infrastructure is not fit for purpose. Throughout the country, significant numbers of companies of every size and sector lack reliable internet connectivity – a basic requirement for businesses to operate efficiently in today’s world.

Unreliable connections stunt productivity, causing needless delays, costs and frustration. While businesses in every corner of the UK are affected, our research shows that it’s rural areas and small businesses that are most likely to suffer. An unreliable connection acts as an obstacle to growth, and puts those firms most in need of support at a competitive disadvantage.

We’ve been calling on both providers and on government for years to fund the necessary upgrades required to deliver superfast broadband to business communities. Regulators, too, must ensure that firms actually get the quality and speeds of connection they are promised.

While we welcome recent ministerial announcements about investing in 5G technology and efforts to build a world-class digital infrastructure in the UK, there is still a long way to go in getting the basics right. The immediate focus must be on providing all companies with connections that are reliable and of sufficient speed, which would boost business confidence and encourage firms to maximise opportunities for growth, trade and investment.”

The findings are perhaps unsurprising because most rural areas reflect the final 10% of premises and the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK programme, which hopes to make fixed line “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) networks available to 97% of UK homes and businesses by 2020, has only recently passed an estimated coverage of 92%. The survey itself was also conducted in January 2017, when coverage was a little lower.

As a result of that many rural areas are currently still having to depend upon older and slower pure copper line based broadband solutions (e.g. ADSL) or inferior Satellite. Bigger businesses can at least stomach the high cost of getting a dedicated Ethernet Leased Line installed but that’s not particularly viable for the smallest of firms.

At lease the problem should shrink as BDUK nears completion and this is good because 48% of respondents agreed that faster and more reliable connections would allow them to use more applications, particularly cloud-based services (24%), transfer of large files (22%) and remote server access for employees (15%).

Unfortunately the survey doesn’t delve into the detail of the aforementioned issues with reliability. As a result it’s unclear how many could potentially be solved by changing provider / network. Other things like adopting a proper business package with a decent Service Level Agreement (SLA) and introducing redundancy (assuming that’s viable for the area) may also help to improve overall reliability.

Never the less it’s crucial for the Government to support this with a clear policy and funding, ideally something that doesn’t leave the final 2-3% of the UK to suffer an inferior Satellite link or sub-24Mbps terrestrial broadband.

At the same time it’s important to recognise that rolling out new networks and upgrading existing ones is not something that happens overnight, it takes years and the current schemes will all run until 2020. It’s also expensive and the Government has yet to set their final funding and approach for the future 10Mbps+ Universal Service Obligation, which will also help.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
2 Responses
  1. Avatar Dave

    So nothing has changed, we have been saying the same thing for years.
    I am looking forward to 2020 for a 10 mbs with the USO meanwhile every body else has moved on to ultra fast!
    Of course I could be just given the option of satellite as a mobile signal is still at of the question.

  2. Avatar Mia Tsangaris

    I came across this file transfer tool called Binfer. Binfer can transfer large files quite easily. The most I like about it is the auto resume of interrupted transfers.

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