Half of all small business in rural Britain are unhappy with their broadband

According to the Federation of Small Businesses we are living in a two-speed digital economy and it's rural Britain that is stuck in the slow lane.

Almost half (49 percent) of the business community in rural Britain is dissatisfied with the broadband provision on offer, according to a survey undertaken by the UK's Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

To make matters worse, according to the Federation, more and more small businesses are finding that they are becoming more reliant on broadband at the same time as the UK's broadband infrastructure is failing them.

On top of that this is happening at a time when the rural economy is becoming ever more important to the economy of the country as a whole, according to the FSB, which estimates that the sector contributes some £400bn to the UK economy as a whole.

Data from the survey showed nearly double the level of dissatisfaction in rural businesses than there is with their urban counterparts. More than three quarters (77 percent) said that email will become critical to their business by 2017 while more than half (57 percent) said that broadband will become "essential" within the same period.

The FSB research also uncovered rural businesses' dissatisfaction with broadband across a number of other areas including reliability (with 47 percent dissatisfied), upload speed (61 percent) and download speed (61 percent). This represents a nearly "50 percent gap" in reported satisfaction levels when compare to urban businesses, the report said.

Commenting on the research, Mike Cherry, national policy chairman for the FSB, said: "We risk seeing the emergence of a two-speed online economy resulting from poor rural broadband infrastructure."

In particular, said Cherry, "it's worrying that as many as 14 percent of UK small firms still view the lack of a reliable broadband connection as being the primary barrier to their growth".

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

While acknowledging that improvements have been made to broadband provision in the UK in recent years the FSB thinks that "more could be done" and in particular more should be done about the fact that only "16 percent of rural businesses have access to super-fast broadband".

"The government's strategy to deliver 24Mbps broadband to 95 per cent of all users by 2017 is not sufficiently ambitious," the Federation said especially for the five per cent of mainly rural businesses who are, left receiving just 2Mbps, which is barely sufficient for even basic tasks like sending email. For the survey the FSB collected the views of 1,402 of its members.

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