The Government’s indecision over how the UK’s seamless broadband infrastructure will avoid a divide between rural and urban areas has angered The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).
The body spoke out as figures showed that for many small businesses broadband speeds aren’t adequate.
According to the CMA Internet Opportunity Survey, supported by the FSB, many small businesses cannot access broadband connections and it is hampering their productivity and ability to grow. Figures revealed that 9% cannot access broadband at all, and 22% cannot access current generation broadband ion at least one of their sites.
Meanwhile, of the 84% that can use current generation broadband, there is a marked difference in the typical speeds they receive, but more than a quarter can only just obtain speeds considered by Government to be a minimum level of service – 2Mbps.
The FSB said that at a recent breakfast meeting with The Department for Culture, Media and Sport on broadband, it raised concerns that a divide will still remain between urban and rural areas as more urban parts of the country receive superfast broadband and rural areas are left in the ‘digital’ dark.
It argues that a fast, reliable and guaranteed broadband service is crucial for small businesses wherever they are as the Government looks to them for greater economic growth because access to broadband allows small firms to expand into new markets, and allows staff to work flexibly.
As a result, the FSB is calling on the Government to:
•Set out a clear commitment to deploying superfast broadband across the UK and say how it will avoid a two-tier country with broadband speeds and connectivity
•Set out as quickly as possible, where the gaps in coverage are expected to be after 2015 and set out a commitment beyond 2015
•Recognise the importance of broadband for business growth, innovation and flexible working by ensuring they are key to all policy decisions
•Include business coverage and speed as indicators within the Government’s UK broadband scorecard
It is also calling on local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships to work with their small business communities to develop local broadband plans that reflect the needs of local businesses.
FSB national chairman John Walker said: ‘With the growth of the internet, small businesses have been able to break down some of the barriers to markets, become more efficient as well as innovate and grow. A fast, reliable broadband service is crucial for this wherever a small business may be. However, we are concerned that the divide that currently splits urban and rural areas in terms of their broadband access, will not be resolved by the Government’s existing commitments.
‘It is important the Government sets out clear commitments and details on how it will deploy superfast broadband across the entire country up to and beyond 2015. It must ensure that businesses in all parts of the country can compete on a level playing field. With the Government looking to the private sector to pull the UK economy onto firm ground, we cannot help only a few businesses – we must ensure all small firms have the best opportunity available to them to grow, innovate and take on staff. Good broadband access, connection and speeds are central to that.’