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Time to deliver on broadband promises, say small businesses

Small companies in the UK are being held back by poor broadband and mobile connections, according to new research by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

The findings, revealed in FSB’s new digital infrastructure report ‘Lost Connection’, show that a third of firms (33%) are struggling with broadband speeds that are insufficient for their current business needs. Two in five (40%) say their broadband is not good enough for their future needs.

The report also explores mobile connectivity, with data showing almost half (45%) of small firms cannot get a good connection on their mobile phones. This figure rises to 57% in rural areas of the UK.

Connection issues are crushing the growth and productivity of small business owners, with more than one in three (32%) reporting poor mobile and broadband connection has prevented them from contacting or being contacted by existing customers – or even potential new clients.

A similar number (30%) said poor connection is a barrier to growing their business, while over a quarter (26%) of small firms saying poor mobile coverage has led to a loss of business or sales.

With over half (52%) of business owners revealing they want to adopt full fibre when it becomes available in their area, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s ambitious promise of nationwide full fibre or gigabit capable broadband by 2025 must be kept, according to FSB. The body is calling on Government, industry and regulators to work together to remove barriers to the roll out of full fibre, to resolve the productivity puzzle and ensure no one is left behind as we enter the fourth industrial revolution.

It is urging a strong focus on the small businesses currently struggling with poor internet connection, with an emphasis on connecting those that are being left behind. FSB is also calling for a public commitment from Government that every premises will receive download speeds of at least 10 megabits per second (Mbps) by the end of 2021, regardless of whether or not they have proactively asked to be connected under the Universal Service Obligation (USO).

The USO, which comes into force next March, gives residents and businesses the legal right to request a ‘decent’ broadband connection providing a download speed of at least 10 mbps. However, FSB statistics show that almost a third (30%) of small firms in the UK are still grappling with download speeds of less than 10 mbps.

To help improve network coverage and attempt to get rid of ‘not spots’ in rural areas, FSB is supporting the idea of a shared rural network among the four large mobile network operators to try to bridge the gap in phone reception.

FSB is also calling for the scheduled spectrum band auction of both 4G and 5G take place without delay, which will help improve mobile reception.

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