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FSB: Providers should advertise minimum - not maximum - broadband speeds

Thursday, September 10th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

Broadband providers should advertise their minimum, rather than maximum, speeds for businesses, so they know what service to expect, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has said.

The suggestion comes as part of a new voluntary code of practice proposed by the FSB to help fix the digital issues that are holding back small businesses.

An FSB report into the health of the digital communications market highlights a gap between what businesses expect from their broadband service, and what they actually get.

According to the federation, its members say the service they get often falls short of what they need or have been told to expect.

It called for the issue to be addressed through a Universal Service Obligation – the legal entitlement to a basic service – of at least 10Mbps, as well as a challenge to providers to advertise minimum speeds, instead of the current practice of advertising maximum possible speeds.

The report, ‘Reassured, optimised, transformed: driving digital demand among small businesses’, found many firms are using better connectivity to improve efficiency and make savings, but some are still frustrated with the quality of service they are getting.

Some have tried to overcome challenges by upgrading to superfast broadband, not necessarily for the advertised top-speeds but to achieve more reliable basic speeds and connectivity, the FSB said.

It found that nearly one in five (17%) small firms believed that even if providers failed to deliver the higher speeds advertised for superfast broadband, they would at least get sufficient speeds to carry out essential tasks.

While many small businesses recognised the opportunities of doing more online, many were not confident they would get a service on which they could build the future of their business.

To address the problem, the FSB is calling for the industry to sign up to a new voluntary code of practice for business customers, and so commit to minimum standards on speeds and reliability.

'Barriers'

FSB policy director Mike Cherry said: 
“Large numbers of small firms are using new digital technology to revolutionise the way they do business, but the market still has barriers stopping firms from seizing these opportunities.

“The success of the digital revolution has led to ever higher expectations from businesses and consumers which at times the market struggles to deliver.”

Business customers feel confused by the complexity of the market and struggle to assess how new services would benefit their business, he said.

“A voluntary code of practice will help simplify matters and build trust between business customers and service providers.

“It will also allow small firms to better understand what services are available and how they can integrate these into their future business strategy."

FSB research has found that 99% of small firms rate the internet as highly important to their business, with more than half (51%) of members already offering services online and another 15% planning to in the future.

Mr Cherry added: “UK businesses and consumers have enthusiastically embraced digital communications, giving us a head start on our international competitors.

“But we cannot afford to be complacent. Consumer expectations and new technology are already overtaking past ambitions.

“We need to do even better, reaching a universal minimum of a least 10Mbps while also building greater trust and reliability.”

The report is being launched at a roundtable event in London today, whose attendees are set to include digital minister Ed Vaizey; FSB policy director Mike Cherry; Bill Murphy, BT managing director next generation access; Andrew Heaney, Talk Talk’s director of strategy; and Virgin Media Business managing director Peter Kelly.

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