Small businesses 'risk missing opportunities of broadband'

The CBI says that broadband operators have let down the UK's SMEs by focusing on football and porn rather than business services

One of the leading players in the UK's business sector has warned that small businesses are in grave danger of wasting the opportunity given to them by the rapid growth in broadband availability in the UK.

Sir Digby Jones told the Broadband Britain Summit 2005 in London that high-speed networks give every company the chance to compete on the global stage, and also let them transform their own working practices.

However, as broadband gives companies across the world this chance, UK firms who won't react may struggle to survive.

"We live in a world of globalisation, where China wants your lunch and India wants your dinner," said Jones, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, in the opening keynote at the event.

According to recent Ofcom figures, more than 30 percent of businesses now have broadband. But, Jones warned, many aren't getting full value out of it — and he believes large telecoms operators are to blame.

"Only relatively recently have suppliers begun paying attention to the business market, rather than the entertainment needs of consumers. The indifference felt by some companies is a legacy of this," claimed Jones. "Surely business matters as much as football or pornography on broadband."

"We need to ensure that businesses have services available to them that help them make the additional investment they need to be able to take the pearl from the broadband oyster," he said.

Jones wants to see small businesses using modern connectivity methods to bring in flexible and remote working, offer e-learning to their employees and change their sales and purchasing patterns.

One attendee warned that companies who haven't yet embraced broadband risk being left behind nimbler rivals.

"When Internet access was first available, the early adopters got a big jump on everyone else. The government did then do a good job of getting more people online, but it took four years."

"The early adopters of broadband are already there. Medium and late adopters need to wake up," the attendee added.