Digital divide bad for rural business

THREE in five rural businesses are dissatisfied with their broadband speeds, reveals a study.

Businesses are suffering with the slow speed of their broadband, says the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

Its report, The Missing Links – Revitalising Our Rural Economy, calls for superfast 20Mbps broadband to be rolled out to at least 98% of rural communities and businesses.

Countryside businesses and households have long had problems either accessing broadband or with slow internet speeds, the FSB has warned.

Faster speeds would help close the digital gap between town and country.

The FSB's 'Voice of Small Business' Panel Survey of more than 3,000 members shows that 63% of small firms are dissatisfied with the speed of their broadband connection compared to 48% of businesses in urban areas.

Another 34% of small rural firms said they are dissatisfied with the reliability and a quarter (24%) with the value for money.

FSN chairman John Walker said: "Many rural firms are still unable to access basic broadband to run their business effectively.

"It shouldn't matter where a business is located. With the technology we have today all firms should be able to trade overseas, throughout the UK, and from town to village.

"With both rural and urban businesses clearly looking to the internet to expand, it is imperative the government takes action to close the digital divide between urban and rural businesses.

The government has announced that it will create 10 super-connected cities by 2015 that will have ultrafast broadband speeds.

While the FSB welcomes this move, it believes it doesn't go far enough and will only widen the digital divide between rural and urban businesses.

This is especially since the same number of rural (85%) and urban (84%) businesses think their reliance on the internet will increase.

The FSB believes that all businesses, whether urban or rural, should be able to tap into all markets.

Broadband is crucial for this, especially for rural businesses that are often miles away from their customers and suppliers. It will also help them boost exports - crucial for economic growth.

Effective broadband is also vital for businesses to access and complete government services, such as applications for funding, business rates and tax returns, which are all being put online.

As a result, the FSB believes that to get sufficient broadband everywhere, the government should be acting with a greater sense of urgency.

Self-employment and home-based working is more prominent in rural areas.

The FSB believes that rolling out efficient broadband will encourage more small businesses to grow, improve their competiveness and encourage them to take on staff.

It says this is crucial at a time of high unemployment.



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