Quarter of UK businesses don’t have reliable broadband despite government pledges on ‘superfast’ internet

Damning figures a blow for Government’s target of superfast connectivity for 95% of internet users by December 

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The Independent Online

Almost a quarter of UK small businesses are being held back by unreliable internet connections despite Government promises to roll out “superfast broadband” across the UK by the end of the year.

In rural areas 30 per cent of companies of all sizes do not have access to a stable connection, double the rate in towns, according to a survey by the British Chambers of Commerce. A minority of 7 per cent of companies said they couldn’t rely on their internet connection at all. 

This is despite almost all businesses surveyed (99 per cent) saying reliable broadband was important, with more than four in five saying it was “extremely important”.

The damning statistics released on Monday suggest that the Government’s pledge to ensure 95 per cent of people have high-speed connections of over 24 megabits per second (Mbps) by the end of 2017 is some way off being fulfilled.

For mobiles, in the Budget earlier this month Chancellor Philip Hammond pledged to “leverage private sector investment” to provide more ultra-fast 5G connectivity.

Adam Marshall, director general of the BCC said that while this was welcome, the government still has a “long way to go to get the basics right”.

“Unreliable connections stunt productivity, causing needless delays, costs and frustration,” Mr Marshall said. 

“While businesses in every corner of the UK are affected, our research shows that it’s rural areas and small businesses that are most likely to suffer. An unreliable connection acts as an obstacle to growth, and puts those firms most in need of support at a competitive disadvantage.

“We’ve been calling on both providers and on government for years to fund the necessary upgrades required to deliver superfast broadband to business communities.”

While the Government searches for ways to boost the UK’s lacklustre productivity, the BCC’s data suggests that more reliable connections would allow businesses to do more. 

Nearly half of businesses (48%) said if the reliability of their broadband connection was improved it would allow them to use more applications, particularly cloud-based services, transfer of large files and remote server access for employees. 

Mr Marshall called on ministers to act, stating that the immediate focus must be on providing all companies with reliable, fast connections. 

“This will boost business confidence and encourage firms to maximise opportunities for growth, trade and investment,” he added.

Last week industry regulator Ofcom proposed that customers should get automatic refunds if landline or broadband services are too slow, or if repair deadlines are missed.

Under the proposals, customers would be entitled to automatic compensation, without having to go through potentially arduous claims processes when they receive poor service.

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