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UK.gov warned: Small biz bods 'blunted' by broadband bumbling

You're killing our speed buzz, says FSB

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Small businesses in Britain are missing out on the government's £1.2bn taxpayer-funded broadband deployment project, a lobby group warned today.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) complained in a report titled The fourth utility (PDF) published this morning that 45,000 companies in the UK remained stuck using dial-up access to the internet.

It added that many more SMBs were starved of faster broadband network access and were instead having to put up with pathetic downstream speeds that are lower than 2Mbit/s.

"While the residential market may be seeing the benefits of high speed broadband, this is often not the case for the business community," the FSB claimed.

The organisation recommended that the government, whose Broadband Delivery UK contracts were awarded in their entirety to one-time state monopoly BT, commits to bringing speeds of 10Mbps to all biz premises by 2019.

At present, Whitehall is promising to push speeds of 2Mbit/s to the final 5 per cent of properties in Blighty – which are among the hardest to reach places in the country – by 2017.

But the FSB has said that such a strategy isn't good enough and falls far short of the government's "digital by default" plans.

The group added that the Tory-led Coalition lacked ambition about Britain's future when it comes to the rollout of broadband networks.

It noted that Denmark, for example, was promising to offer universal internet access of 100Mbps by 2020. The FSB also pointed out South Korea's speedy sprint for 1,000Mbps broadband for 90 per cent of its citizens by 2017.

The FSB said:

The government should prioritise the delivery of fibre-optic broadband to business communities such as retail parks and ensure that firms located in enterprise zones, which are designed to spur local growth, are fully connected – many are still not.

It plans to take its case for proper investment in broadband for SMBs to the Competition and Markets Authority to demand an assessment of the current broadband structure in the UK.

"We want government to oversee the creation of world-beating digital infrastructure that will enable businesses to grow, innovate and compete in international markets. This means not only raising download speeds but also upload speeds that are so important and where provision is especially inadequate," said FSB national chairman John Allan.

"Otherwise firms' growth ambitions will be blunted, while government efforts to get every firm to go ‘digital by default' when filing its taxes online will be impossible to achieve."

The government dismissed the gripes, however.

A spokesman at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport told The Register:

This report doesn’t reflect the real picture, but rightly highlights the growing importance of broadband to businesses in the digital age.

World class connectivity is one of our top priorities - UK Broadband is already regarded as being among the best in Europe*, and government’s nationwide rollout of broadband will deliver access to superfast speeds to 95 per cent of the UK by 2017.

The DCMS added:

One thing - the wording of the report implies that the current rollout aims to deliver 24Mbs speeds to 95 per cent of the UK by 2017 and no more than 2Mbs to the last 5 per cent. This is of course misleading – the project will deliver access to speeds of at least 24Mbs (superfast) to 95 per cent of the UK by 2017 and at least 2Mbs to the rest.

The reality is that the a huge proportion of homes and businesses will have access to speeds well in excess of this.

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* The government reset its definition of "best" last year. It's now competing for that title against countries that clearly won't meet that target by 2017. Step forward France, Germany, Spain and Italy, but not Denmark. Obviously.

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