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Time to fight back against slow broadband

Matt Powell_feature

Many small firms still struggle to get decent broadband provision. But there are steps you can take which could improve things, says Matt Powell of Broadband Genie

For many rural businesses, broadband is not living up to expectations. Attainable speeds fall way short of urban areas. Reliability can be an issue too, as can contention and latency.

All these combine to stifle what should be a communication medium available to all. This is a problem for all internet users but even more so for rural businesses. According to a recent report by Virgin Media Business, 57 per cent of organisations said fast internet access was critical to daily operations and that they wouldn’t be able to function without it. They also said slow internet speeds were holding their company back.

The average employee wastes an estimated 15 minutes per day waiting for internet applications to process due to connection speed. Multiply that by each employee and you have quite a productivity deficit.

It’s even impacting the commercial property market. A survey carried out by Savills last year found that an incredible 80 per cent of respondents said that poor broadband was a constraint on letting commercial premises in rural areas. 

Even though BT and Government have pledged to improve rural broadband speed and coverage, it’s taken years and billions of pounds in investments to reach existing coverage levels, and there’s still some time to go before many rural areas gain modern broadband access. 

Unfortunately, that means individuals and businesses reliant on broadband must either make the most of what they have, or explore the alternatives.

Business owners currently stuck with slow broadband should assess their current situation for potential fixes. Use a speed checker to assess whether delivered internet speed is acceptable or not. If the average speed falls significantly short of the contract speed, take it up with the provider. It’s not always going to have results, but you may be able to force some action.

There are also internal optimisations which can be made to make the most of whatever connection you do have. Using a good router, using wireless repeaters if you use Wi-Fi, keeping wiring as short as possible and using an I-plate or filter for ADSL can all help the quality of the connection.

Controlling what devices use the connection and what applications within those devices upload or download data can help too. While these optimisations won’t massively increase your broadband speed, they will help you prioritise what bandwidth you have.

The ‘nuclear option’ is the installation of an ultrafast Fibre To The Premises (FTTP) connection to deliver world-class performance. In an ideal world, this is what we’d see being rolled out across the UK right now, but given the expense it’s going to be a while before it becomes widespread. 

In some areas businesses will be able to take advantage of community-driven FTTP projects such as Gigaclear, where the costs are shouldered by the fibre provider on the basis that there’s enough local interest to make it viable. But if that’s not possible, the enormous cost of installing such a service puts it out of reach of many businesses.

Of course, fixed line broadband isn’t your only option. Depending on where you live, there are other opportunities to connect. It may be worth exploring satellite broadband or mobile (4G) broadband options, depending on how much you depend on being connected. 

As part of its commitment to delivering superfast broadband to the majority of the UK, the Government has launched a subsidy scheme for satellite. Satellite broadband can be expensive, but if your business depends on the internet it may be an expense worth bearing. However this also has major drawbacks, especially for businesses, as the latency (or ‘lag’) introduced by satellite communications hinders tasks used by many businesses such as remote access and VOIP. Satellite is useful in some circumstances, but can only be seen as a stop-gap measure. 

Alternatively, if you have a reliable 4G connection, mobile broadband is now a very viable alternative to fixed line connectivity. But of course that requires a strong signal, something which may also be lacking in rural areas. 

No successful business sits back and waits for things to happen, so why would you do the same for your broadband? Get together with other small businesses, set up a working group, gather information, funds and signatures and begin lobbying. Write to your local council, MP, broadband provider and planning officer to see what is preventing your area receiving faster connections. There are local, regional and national grants and initiatives to help small rural businesses get connected. Make sure you know what is available in your area and are on the list.

Matt Powell is the editor for home and business broadband comparison site Broadband Genie (www.broadbandgenie.co.uk

Don’t forget to check out how FSB Communications can help. Visit www.fsb.org.uk/benefits/support/fsb-communications