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SMEs in rural areas inhibited by unreliable broadband

New research from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has shown that almost half (49 per cent) of rural-based small businesses are unimpressed by the quality of their broadband services; hindering their day-to-day operations.

That figure is almost double that of the number of urban SMEs (28 per cent) that have voiced their dissatisfaction regarding their broadband connections.

Sluggish download and upload speeds and weak infrastructure threatens to leave the expansion of the £400bn rural economy at risk.

The FSB revealed that more than three-quarters (77 per cent) of companies said email will be critical for business operations, while a further 57 per cent said the internet will be “essential to engaging with customers” over the next 12-24 months.

Mike Cherry, national policy chairman, FSB, said: “This research paints a worrying picture of a divided business broadband landscape in the UK, and unless addressed highlights a clear obstacle to growth in the coming years.

“We risk seeing the emergence of a two-speed online economy resulting from poor rural broadband infrastructure.”

According to data from RetailMeNot last month, businesses are increasingly reliant on the web to market their products and services digitally, with mobile platforms of key importance.

“It’s worrying that as many as 14 per cent of UK small firms still view the lack of a reliable broadband connection as being the primary barrier to their growth,” added Cherry.

“A reliable connection is now viewed as a key business requirement by 94 per cent of small UK businesses, yet continued poor connectivity in rural areas represents a huge missed opportunity for economic growth in many parts of the country.

“These gaps and weaknesses need to be addressed as a matter of priority with the minimum of 10 Mbps to all business premises by 2018/19, and a pledge to deliver minimum speeds of 100 Mbps to all by 2030.”

Stuart Lynn, chief technology officer, Sage UK & Ireland, believes the UK is currently “in the midst of a technology revolution” and that dissatisfaction among rural businesses “underlines the need for the government to “fast-track investment”.

“Technology acts as the bridge to cross any physical boundary. Effective communications will allow businesses across the country to link with potential customers much more efficiently, helping them to grow and succeed,” said Lynn.

Image: Declan Jewell

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