UK broadband is not 'fit-for-purpose,' according to a small business nonprofit

The Federation of Small Businesses has judged the UK broadband infrastructure as not "fit-for-purpose." Here are some of the nonprofit's reasons.


The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), a nonprofit organization that lobbies for the interests of entrepreneurs and small and medium businesses, has released a report (PDF) characterizing the current broadband infrastructure in the United Kingdom as not "fit-for-purpose," as the available speeds from ISPs are insufficient for the needs of businesses.

Where they are and where they're going (slowly)

In a survey of members of the FSB, 65% of small businesses have a wired broadband connection. In total, only 12% have a fiber-optic connection. 35% are connected via mobile networks. 45,000 small businesses (approximately 1%) have no other option than dial-up internet. A quarter of respondents indicated that they are "fairly or very dissatisfied" with their broadband services.

Investment in infrastructure in the United Kingdom puts the roadmap for access to 24 megabits per second for 95% of users by 2017, with a minimum of 2 megabits per second for everyone else in the same timeframe. The report considers this is "not sufficiently ambitious." For comparison, according to the report, the European Commission intends for a minimum of 30 mbps for all users by 2020, with half of all households reaching 100 mbps. Individually, Finland has committed to offer 100 mpbs to all citizens by 2015, and South Korea plans to offer one gigabit connections to 90% of the populace by 2017.

Why this problem exists

The report by the FSB identifies a variety of disparate reasons why this problem exists. Like the US, much of the market is held by four companies: BT has 30% of the market, Virgin Media holds 21%, Sky has 19%, and TalkTalk has 17%. However, BT (a formerly public body that was privatized in the Thatcher years) and Virgin Media own much of the actual infrastructure used, with other organizations functioning typically as resellers.

The finger is also pointed at Ofcom, the regulatory agency created in 2003 that is charged with the oversight of television, radio, telecommunications, and wireless communications. Interestingly, the claim is made that in some areas a "lack of suitable regulatory oversight of local-level access has actually led to too much retail competition." This level of competition, they claim, has "resulted in a race to the bottom on prices, to the detriment of a wider range of services including those required by small businesses."

Additionally, the lack of investment into broadband infrastructure is named as a primary reason as to why broadband speeds are comparatively low. The FSB cedes the point that in the short term, "the delivery of 'fit-for-purpose' broadband should not necessarily require wholesale infrastructure competition across the entire UK."

When Software as a Service isn't serviceable

The primary encumbrance to adopting programs that rely on cloud infrastructure or are entirely web-based is the availability of a reliably fast and consistent internet connection. Without adequate connectivity, the prospect of moving the entire workflow of a business to the public cloud, or utilizing the hybrid cloud, are quite slim.

It's likely that few people will wish to use cloud-based backup services if the act of backing up their data saturates their entire upstream access. Speaking from personal experience, attempting to use web-based software suites such as Google Docs on a dial-up internet connection is greatly unpleasant and quite nearly impossible.

Sound off

Are the available broadband providers in your region substandard? Are you avoiding moving to another region based on the quality of the available internet services? Have you also taken up using a web-based software suite on a dial-up internet connection? Let us know in the comments.

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James Sanders is a Java programmer specializing in software as a service and thin client design, and virtualizing legacy programs for modern hardware.

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