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Lack of understanding rather than lack of service availability is the biggest factor inhibiting broadband take-up among small and medium-sized firms in the UK. A whopping 80 per cent of small companies that can get broadband in their area have no plans to upgrade from dial-up Internet access during the next 12 months, a recent study has reported.

The poll, conducted by Intellect, a British IT, telecoms and electronics suppliers' trade association, found that the main reason quoted by the broadband refuseniks is "lack of business case". However, the UK same research, which found that less than a third of SMEs currently have cable or xDSL, observed that this apparent apathy over broadband is "a surprising response" since the feedback from SMEs which have broadband is extremely positive.

"Nine out of ten SMEs with broadband say they are highly likely to recommend the technology to other business. Moreover, they say that broadband is easy to install and to integrate into their existing systems, scotching negative perceptions about complexity being a barrier to take-up," Intellect's report stated.

"They say overwhelmingly that they cannot imagine how they managed before it was available, that getting broadband is a no-brainer and that if they lost broadband tomorrow it would be like turning out the lights."

According to Intellect, the conflicting opinions suggest that a divide is opening up - not between firms that can get broadband and those that can't - but between companies that understand the potential benefits of the technology and those that don't.

The suppliers' group attributes this failure to understand the benefits of broadband to the fact that organisations usually to apply cost-benefit analyses to their existing processes, they don't think about using broadband to change these. Since SMEs are reporting many benefits from broadband that they had not originally envisaged, these don't get factored in.

"When first asked, SMEs overwhelmingly report that the major benefit of broadband is speed but they often hardly notice the implications of this faster speed: how it is changing their processes. A number of interviewees said at first that broadband had not changed their ways of working - until they were asked to recall how they had operated before," the study stated.

"Once they had a chance to think about it, they said that broadband had had a transformational effect - it was just that they had grown accustomed to it so quickly that they didn't think about it any more." ®

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