Poorly-performing rural broadband is a major problem for small businesses based in the countryside. Ofcom figures show 17 per cent of premises in rural areas cannot access a decent broadband connection. Considering 24 per cent of all registered businesses in England are based in hard to reach locations, this is an alarming amount of businesses that are being left in the digital slow lane. So, it’s no surprise that rural business owners feel disadvantaged by Britain’s patchy broadband infrastructure.
As technology and workplaces develop, more businesses than ever before are relying on cloud-based systems and e-commerce. In fact, the UK is the third largest e-commerce market in the world, with an estimated £533 billion worth of transactions taking place every year.
But without the necessary connection, it would be nigh-on impossible for a business to stay in control of their online payments and order fulfilment. It would be easy to discount the contribution that rural businesses offer the economy, with many seeming too small to make much of an impact.
However, recent reports have stated that rural businesses could be contributing up to £26 billion a year to the UK’s economy if their digital potential was fully enabled.
Solving the problem
Increased investment in Britain’s digital infrastructure is the solution to ensuring we address this issue. Solving this will not only benefit the homes and businesses within these communities, but will also help to ensure the UK’s position as a leading digital economy, which sadly continues to lag behind other less economically developed countries.
The Government recently launched the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR), which lays out the path that will provide confidence for businesses, currently struggling with inadequate and prehistoric infrastructure.
Momentum is building and their calls for faster and more reliable connections have been heard. However, the implementation of this report is still a long way into the horizon, with the review calling for full fibre broadband coverage across all of the UK by 2033. So, until this new strategy is fully realised and outdated copper can be switched off for good, businesses that are currently struggling need a plan to help keep them afloat.
During this time, there are numerous ways businesses can ensure they are getting the best service possible with the current technological limitations in their area. This could be as simple as talking to their current provider to see if there are any other potential packages or upgrades expected, or another possibility is to use the power of the community to instigate change.
By becoming the champion for ultrafast broadband in their community, they can try to encourage an alternative provider to connect the area to its full fibre network.Business owners can start by engaging with other members of the community; chances are if one business is struggling, then others will be too. If this is the case, then it will be easier to make the business case for investment into the area, as ten voices are a lot stronger than just a single one and can provide validation for investment.
Once more people are on board, the next step is to approach either the local council or local broadband champion group to see if they can help address the issue on the community’s behalf. Alternatively, once businesses or the champion group has the backing of the community, they can approach a supplier and make the case for why the area should be connected – and they just might be.
In addition, here is a list of simple questions that SMEs can ask their providers to check if their current connection can be improved.
What type of fibre connection do I have / can I get?
Find out if you have a part or full fibre service as this determines the level of connectivity available. (Please see the full definitions below to help distinguish the different services)
FTTC (Fibre-to-the-Cabinet) – Part Fibre: the fibre optic cabling is laid to the cabinets, then uses century old copper phone lines to provide a broadband connection to the home or business. This is the most common type of ‘fibre’ broadband advertised, limiting speeds to 24 Mbps. Speeds also depend on distance between property and cabinet.
FTTP / FTTH (Fibre-to-the-Premises / Fibre-to-the-Home) – Full Fibre: the fibre optic cabling is laid to the cabinets, and then extended from the cabinet directly into the premises. This allows ultrafast speeds of up to 1,000Mbps (1Gbps). However, in the future this technology will allow for even faster speeds through the existing fibre cable.
Do you offer full fibre connections in my area?
If you currently have a part fibre connection and find your service is not meeting your expectations, then you may wish to investigate whether you can access a full fibre connection. Ask your provider if they offer this.
What kind of speeds are best suited to my usage?
Make sure you tell your provider what you use the internet for (e.g. streaming, video calls or uploading documents), how many employees you have, and how many devices (phones, TVs, laptops or other devices) you use. The more downloads and uploads you have and devices you use will have a direct correlation to the broadband package you need.
How can I check my speed?
If your provider’s website doesn’t have an online tool, then you can find another speed checker through your search engine.
Mike Surrey is the chief executive of Gigaclear.
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