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Internet and email services are now so vital to small firms that they are considered to be more important than the telephone, according to a new survey.

The research, conducted by internet provider VIA NET.WORKS, found a loss of web and email functions would cause havoc among 72 per cent of small firms, while only 69 per cent considered losing telephone contact would severely hamper their business.

The study revealed a third of businesses felt any interruptions to their communications would have an immediate financial impact on their profits.

A further 80 per cent said they would choose an internet provider with a service level agreement (SLA), which guarantees service and response times to faults, over one that did not have such a scheme.

VIA claimed that SLAs, once the preserve of large companies, were now becoming increasingly important to smaller firms.

Keith Westcott, managing director of VIA UK, said at first glance the results of the survey seemed surprising.

“But we have been aware for some time of a sea-change in attitude towards the use of the internet and email by small businesses. The call for UK businesses to get online has not gone unheard.

“However, this increasing reliance on internet connectivity mean small firms must be more demanding and choose the service provider that is right for them –and it is little wonder that more and more companies are seeking quality assurances in the form of service level agreements from their suppliers,” he said.

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