Government broadband delivery targets "lack ambition", claim SMBs

Broadband plugs

The government's broadband delivery plans have been slammed by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) for lacking ambition.

Through initiatives such as the Broadband Deliver UK fund, the Government has pledged to deliver broadband speeds of 24Mbps to 95 per cent of homes and businesses by 2017, and speeds of 2Mbps to the remaining five per cent.

However, the industry body, which represents the interests of UK SMBs, has dismissed these targets for not being "sufficiently ambitious", and for not putting the needs of small business owners first.

Research suggests around 450,000 SMBs are still having to rely on dial-up connections to access web-based services.

Broadband needs to be accessible to everyone, the FSB argues, regardless of where they are located, and network provisions need to be "future-proofed" to ensure large-term demands are met.

According to its "The Fourth Utility: Delivering universal broadband connectivity for small businesses across the UK" report, the needs of SMBs have been repeatedly overlooked during the broadband deployments of recent years.

So much so, its research suggests around 450,000 SMBs are still having to rely on dial-up connections to access web-based services.

"ISPs have focused largely on attracting residential customers with low introductory deals rather than offering affordable packages suitable for smaller businesses," the report states.

"This approach needs to change if the enormous benefits of broadband are to be felt more widely."

To address this, the document fleshes out several areas where work is needed to ensure the deployment of broadband services becomes more geographically balanced.

"The level and scope of competition in the market is weak, particularly for fixed broadband... This limits access and choice for small businesses," the report states.

"Partly, as a result of this, investment in new infrastructure has been inadequate and the current regulatory framework has been insufficient in promoting effective competition and encouraging new entrants into the passive and active infrastructure market."

The report sets out a series of recommendations from the FSB, which it claims should ensure the broadband needs of SMBs are met in future.

For instance, the organisation wants the Government to revise up its existing broadband delivery targets, and agree to deliver minimum speeds of 10Mbps to all UK homes and businesses by 2018-19.

By 2030, it also wants to see guaranteed minimum speeds of 100Mbps to all UK premises.

Furthermore, it's calling on the Government to prioritise the delivery of fibre-optic broadband to business parks across the UK to help boost regional economic development, and support the arrival of new entrants into the broadband market.

John Allan, National Chairman of the FSB, reiterated the report's findings, before declaring the Government's existing plans to provide the "final five per cent" of the UK with speeds of 2 Mbps as unacceptable.

"As this report shows, too many of our small firms are held back by the current state of the broadband market 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," said Allan.

"This means not only raising download speeds but also upload speeds that are so important and where provision is especially inadequate. 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."

Caroline Donnelly is the news and analysis editor of IT Pro and its sister site Cloud Pro, and covers general news, as well as the storage, security, public sector, cloud and Microsoft beats. Caroline has been a member of the IT Pro/Cloud Pro team since March 2012, and has previously worked as a reporter at several B2B publications, including UK channel magazine CRN, and as features writer for local weekly newspaper, The Slough and Windsor Observer. She studied Medical Biochemistry at the University of Leicester and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism at PMA Training in 2006.