Ofcom calls for better broadband for small businesses

Ofcom calls for better broadband for small businesses

Ofcom has certainly had its hands full over the last few weeks, particularly when it comes to the regulation of broadband across the UK.

June saw the regulator move to make it easier for consumers to switch their providers, while also fining 4G pioneer EE for its poor standard of customer service.

Now it seems it has turned its attention to the business sector, with a recent announcement calling for joint action between itself, the government and the rest of the industry in making broadband services better for small business.

Sharon White, chief executive of Ofcom, said: "Small businesses are essential to the UK economy, and most rely on telecoms services to carry out their everyday work. But some companies lack the resources or expertise to get the services they need."

SMEs need more support

In its report Broadband Services for SMEs, Ofcom found that 83 per cent of small or medium-sized enterprises (SME) consider communications to be an integral part in their ongoing operations, with 78 per cent claiming to use a fixed broadband connection.

However, the report also found that 15 per cent of SMEs believe they are inadequately served by the communications market, with many expressing concerns around speed, coverage, quality of service and choice between providers.   

When it comes to speed, many consumers are protected by the Code of Practice on Broadband Speeds, which is signed by a number of major consumer providers from across the industry.

The main point of that code is to ensure that any company selling an internet service to a customer gives an accurate estimate as to how fast their connection will be.

The code also requires providers to make sure any technical problems that could reduce speeds are addressed, allowing customers to leave their contract if speeds fall below a certain level.

Now, under guidance announced by Ofcom, there could soon be a similar code in place to protect businesses, particularly SMEs, with BT, TalkTalk and Virgin Media all set to work together in delivering the new rules.

Improve coverage

As well as speed, coverage is also a key area in which Ofcom is looking to address, with the regulator finding that in June last year only 56 per cent of SMEs had access to a superfast broadband connection.

That comes despite many major operators moving to extend their fibre networks, mainly as part of the government's £780 million programme to extend superfast broadband to 95 per cent of UK premises by 2017.

Yet Ofcom is concerned that as many as 18 per cent of SMEs could be left behind, with connection costs well ahead of consumer households and current deployment plans mainly geared towards to households.

The regulator is therefore recommending the government set concrete targets for the connection of business in order to ensure SMEs are not left behind.

Ms White added: "We've made clear we want to see better broadband coverage, quality of service, information and advice for all consumers, and that means business users too. So we are taking action alongside industry and the Government to make that happen."