Broadband policy must be right for online trade to grow

THE Government must get its policy on broadband right by ensuring that everyone has access to adequate broadband as a new report from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) shows online trade is vital for growth.

In a new report, ‘Small businesses and online trading’, the FSB has raised concerns that lack of broadband coverage and slow broadband speeds are putting off small firms from trading online – and so expanding their business. For nine per cent of small firms, current generation broadband – up to 24Mbps – is not available across any of their sites and 22 per cent said it is not available on at least one. Around a quarter of small businesses only have access to speeds of up to 2Mbps – acting as a major barrier to trading online.

The FSB is concerned that the Government is not doing enough to ensure that the UK has a seamless broadband infrastructure, and one which avoids a divide between rural and urban areas.

Amir Butt, Peterborough Branch Vice Chairman, Federation of Small Businesses, said: “Online trading has helped to empower small businesses to find new markets, sell new products, try new models and compete on an equal footing with larger businesses. Online trade has great potentials for small businesses but it still has its barriers. These must be removed. The FSB is calling on the Government to ensure that all small businesses are connected and have access to the broadband speeds they need to allow those that want to, to do business online.”

The Government has made a commitment to ensure there is universal broadband coverage by 2015, and superfast broadband coverage for 90 per cent of the population in each local authority by 2015. However, the FSB is concerned that a divide will still remain between urban and rural areas as more urban parts of the country receive superfast broadband and rural areas are left in the ‘digital’ dark.

In its Autumn Statement, the Government announced a further £100 million for up to 10 ‘super connected cities’ that will receive speeds of 80-100Mbps. It also announced that it would open its £20 million Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF) for the hardest to reach rural areas. The FSB is concerned that the £20 million RCBF is not enough to meet the challenge of the digital divide and questions whether some of the £100 million wouldn’t be better spent in areas where the market won’t reach.