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Small businesses in the UK fail to see the business benefits of broadband Internet access, even if it were more readily available.

This is the main conclusion drawn from a survey of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) by market opinion outfit MORI, which highlights scepticism about the Internet as a suitable sales tool for smaller firms.

Eight in 10 firms doubt their businesses would be more successful if they had faster Internet access.

SMEs are a key market for ADSL but 47 per cent of the 200 business managers quizzed don't expect broadband connectivity to be crucial for their long-term business plans over the next two years.

The Internet wasn't entirely rejected by smaller firms - rather it was regarded as more of a shop window than an important sales channel.

Almost half (44 per cent) of firms quizzed said they would be interested to use it to market their own products and services.

The survey's findings fly in the face of Government efforts to encourage much wider broadband access in order to both encourage ecommerce and enable online access to public services. A report into broadband, published earlier this year, set the goal for the UK to have the "most extensive and competitive broadband market in the G7 by 2005".

Earlier this month outgoing e-commerce minister, Patricia Hewitt, hinted that public sector investment in broadband could be "significantly higher" than the £500 million already earmarked.

Steve Spink, managing director of Mistral Internet, the ISP which commissioned the MORI survey, described its findings as a "damning indictment of the Government's Broadband Britain strategy", because it found so many UK SMEs regard broadband as having little importance to their businesses.

"Not only must we come up to speed with the unbundling process as a whole, but companies - and SMEs in particular - must be educated further as to the competitive implications and potential business benefits of broadband technologies," said Spink. ®

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