Rural broadband: still life on a branch line

The UK now boasts some of the best average broadband speeds in Europe, but this still leaves a large number of businesses in the slow lane

Inside the Enterprise: UK consumers now enjoy broadband speeds that are, on average, three times as fast as they were just four years ago.

According to communications watchdog Ofcom, the average consumer internet connection now runs at 17.8Mbps, up from just 5.2Mbps in 2010. And a quarter of residential broadband connections are now "superfast", or at 30mbps or above.

This, though, masks a much more mixed regional picture, and one where smaller businesses especially risk being left behind. In rural areas, companies are finding that access to fast broadband is both expensive and complicated. They may even find that they cannot connect to superfast networks, even when those networks are connecting up local homes.

Large enterprises can usually overcome these problems, by installing leased lines to their sites. But this is beyond the reach of smaller firms. And, in rural areas in particular, there are still areas that have no broadband connections at all, and no mobile data services either. This is not limited to the more remote corners of the UK: there are "not spots" in the prosperous South East too.

This is echoed by a recent research report carried out by the Federation of Small Businesses, titled "The Fourth Utility". In its paper, the FSB argues that broadband providers, whilst doing a fairly good job at connecting up centres of population, has largely overlooked the needs of businesses.

One reason is a lack of competition for small business connections; another is an emphasis on enticing consumers to upgrade their services. The result can be anomalies where business owners find they have faster connections at home than at work, or else they are forced to use public hotspots to connect.

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