Broadband black spots hit urban firms

Companies out in the sticks aren't the only ones whose businesses are threatened because they can't get ADSL or cable, the British Chamber of Commerce has warned

The UK's patchy broadband coverage is preventing significant numbers of both urban and rural businesses from upgrading to a high-speed Internet connection, the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC) reported on Monday.

In its latest survey of business broadband use, the BCC found that take-up by its membership has doubled in the past 12 months. Almost 40 percent of members firms now have a broadband connection, compared to 19 percent last year.

Many more businesses would have upgraded to ADSL or cable, though, if they had the chance.

While the lack of availability of broadband in rural areas is a well-recognised, if not necessarily a well-addressed, problem, the BCC survey found that a worrying number of companies in urban locations also can't get an affordable broadband link.

Close to half of the firms without broadband told the BCC that they haven't taken up the technology because it isn't available in their area. One-third of this group (15.8 percent of the overall group of non-broadband firms) are located in urban and industrial areas, with the rest situated in a rural or isolated region.

Several initiatives, such as BT's trigger level scheme and the government's rural aggregation boards, are intended to increase broadband availability over the next few years, but the BCC's findings show that many businesses are losing out today.

They also suggest that a business that can't get an affordable broadband connection could be in big trouble. Three-fifths of those surveyed by the BCC believe that over the next five years that they will be pressured by their customers to "conduct business that requires a high-speed connection".

This is likely to include services and applications such as video-conferencing and e-procurement.

The BCC believes that both the telecoms sector and the government must work harder to push the benefits of broadband.

"Broadband is taking hold in Britain. More than half of all respondents believe that broadband is critical for their business to succeed. Even so, far too many businesses are still viewing broadband as just a faster narrowband connection. Government and industry must now focus on ways in which to improve broadband users' understanding of its full potential," said Isabella Moore, president of the British Chambers of Commerce.

The DTI said it was encouraged by the BCC's findings, and said that the government's commitment to spend £1bn on broadband-enabling the UK's public sector would give a further boost to the broadband industry.