FSB research identifies “two-speed digital economy”

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has released its findings into the differences between rural and urban digital economies and concluded that the UK has a “two-speed digital economy”.

The research has found that just short of half of all rural small businesses are unhappy with the quality of their broadband services compared to 28% of urban small businesses.

The FSB has predicted that the issue is set to be “even more significant over the next two years”, with small businesses becoming increasingly reliant on good broadband services to continue effective business operations.

Of those surveyed, 77% of small businesses said that email will be “critical” to their business operations with 57% requiring broadband to effectively engage with their customers within the next two years.

The FSB said “the current lack of broadband infrastructure serving small firms threatens the expansion of the £400 billion rural economy”.

Rural businesses’ from across a wide geographical range said that their primary dissatisfaction included reliability, with 47% dissatisfied and both upload speed and download speed with 61% dissatisfied.

Mike Cherry, National Policy Chairman for the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “This research paints a worrying picture of a divided business broadband landscape in the UK, and unless addressed highlights a clear obstacle to growth in the coming years.

We risk seeing the emergence of a two-speed online economy resulting from poor rural broadband infrastructure.

A reliable connection is now viewed as a key business requirement by 94 per cent of small UK businesses, yet continued poor connectivity in rural areas represents a huge missed opportunity for economic growth in many parts of the country.

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

The FSB says that current broadband rollouts are not sufficient with 16% of rural businesses have access to super-fast broadband and the plan for a 95% rollout of 24Mbps broadband is not “sufficiently ambitious”.

Following its research, the FSB have urged the government to “conduct a comprehensive review of broadband policy”, including a commitment to accelerate the roll-out of 4G mobile services.

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