Ofcom asks BT, TalkTalk and Virgin Media to improve broadband for SMEs

British telecom regulator Ofcom has asked three major broadband operators — BT, TalkTalk and Virgin Media — to improve broadband services for smaller businesses.

A Ofcom report called Broadband Services for SMEs said 83 percent of small businesses consider communications services to be fundamental to their business, and 78 percent use a fixed broadband connection.

While 85 percent of SMEs feel their business needs are well catered-for by the telecom market, a significant number expressed concerns around broadband speeds, availability, quality of service and choosing between providers.

A fifth of smaller businesses are unhappy at not being able to access the broadband speeds they were led to expect.

The telecom regulator said 5.2 million SMEs constitute 99.9 percent of UK businesses, accounting for 60 percent of private-sector employment and 47 percent of business revenue.

Ofcom today recommended to the Government to set specific targets for business coverage to ensure SMEs have access to the right broadband technology.

Businesses should also be able to switch provider easily. On 20 June, Ofcom introduced rules that mean businesses with fewer than 10 employees (as well as consumers) can switch provider over BT’s network by only dealing with their new supplier.
Broadband user
Ofcom takes action

Ofcom announced an agreement from three of the UK’s largest suppliers – BT, TalkTalk and Virgin Media, which account for the majority of business broadband users – to work on a new Code of Practice for business broadband services.

As per the new code, broadband operators need to share an accurate estimate of the actual speed to consumers when they purchase the internet service in the shop, over the internet or on the phone.

Broadband providers need to resolve technical problems that might reduce broadband speeds, and to allow customers to leave their contract if speeds stay below a minimum level.

SMEs are less well served by superfast broadband than residential users. Ofcom found in June last year that only 56 percent of SME premises had access to superfast broadband against 75 percent of all UK premises.

The unhappiness among UK SMEs is happening at a time when superfast broadband coverage is increasing. Telecom operators such as BT and Virgin Media are expanding their fiber networks, and the Government continues its £780 million program to extend superfast broadband to 95 percent of UK premises by 2017.

Ofcom’s analysis suggests that by 2017, when 95 percent of all premises are due to have access, around 18 percent of SMEs may still not be able to receive superfast broadband.

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