In this increasingly digital economy high quality communication services are essential if businesses want to remain competitive.
A recent Ofcom report found that 83% of small businesses consider communication services to be a fundamental to their business and 78% use a fixed broadband connection. The report, Broadband Services for SMEs, investigated how well small businesses are served by their communications services. Ofcom identified several areas that need to be addressed by a combination of regulation, public policy and action by broadband suppliers.
While 85% of small businesses feel their business needs are well catered for by the communications market, a significant number expressed concerns around broadband speeds, availability, quality of service and choosing between providers. According to Ofcom research a fifth of smaller businesses are unhappy at not being able to access the broadband speeds they were led to expect.
To help address this problem and improve the level of information and advice about actual broadband speeds, Ofcom has announced an agreement from three of the UKs largest suppliers – BT, TalkTalk and Virgin Media – to work on a new code of practise for business broadband users similar to the code which protects consumers currently.
The current code requires those selling internet services to accurately estimate the speed of service they will receive. The consumer code also requires providers to resolve technical problems that might reduce broadband speeds and to allow customers to leave their contract if speeds stay below the minimum level.
The business code will be along similar lines but tailored to particular needs of small businesses by setting out commitments related to upload speeds which are important for businesses as well as download speeds.
Ofcom found in June that only 56% of SME premises had access to superfast broadband compared to 75% of all UK premises. They predict that by 2017 when, according to government plans, 95% of all premises are due to have access around 18% may still not be able to access superfast broadband.
Ofcom has therefore recommended to the government that explicit targets for business coverage are established to help ensure SMEs have access to the right technology and can remain competitive in the increasingly digital world.