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Chuka Umunna: Nobody should have to wait 'weeks on end' for broadband

Friday, January 30th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

A Labour government will take steps to make sure people who want to set up their own businesses are not held back by a lack of broadband or digital skills, the shadow business secretary has told Cable.co.uk.

Chuka Umunna said Labour would, if elected, make sure that people setting up a business do not have to wait for “weeks on end” for a broadband connection.

Speaking to us at an event in London for Next Generation, Labour’s entrepreneurs’ network, Mr Umunna said it is also vital to make sure people have the right digital skills to take advantage of opportunities.

He said: “Obviously with our digital infrastructure, people potentially can be running a multinational [company] out of their bedroom.

“But if the infrastructure isn't there, and it isn't there in too many parts of the country where there are blackspots, then that's not a dream that everybody will be able to realise.”

Labour will set up an Independent Infrastructure Commission, in line with recommendations in Sir John Armitt’s independent review of infrastructure, he said.

“Secondly, just on a very practical level, I think we need to ensure that if people want to get a broadband connection, and certainly when you're starting up a business it's essential, you don't have to wait for weeks on end before getting one.

'Not the feedback I'm getting'

“If we're elected I'm going to ask Ofcom to look into whether it is feasible for us to have a requirement on the telecoms companies that they provide you with a broadband connection within a week of the request going in.

“Now BT would argue that they're already doing this but that's not necessarily the feedback I'm getting from businesses.”

Mr Umunna's comments come after Ofcom introduced new rules which mean that Openreach, which installs and maintains connections to BT's network for the company itself as well as competing providers, must provide an appointment for around 55% of new line installations that require an engineer visit within 12 working days of being notified.

The rules, announced in June and cited in the watchdog's Consumer Experience Report, also require Openreach to complete around 70% of fault repairs within one to two working days of being notified.

The Consumer Experience Report outlines the regulator's work to support smaller businesses (SMEs), including a study of their phone and broadband needs; work on a regional level to understand the experiences of small businesses, and a business web portal offering advice and support.

According to the watchdog, research last year found that 85% of SMEs felt well-served by the communications market, but some had concerns about getting new services and their reliability.

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