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January 11, 2013

Never mind speed – improve coverage, says broadband report

Small businesses are not making the most of opportunities in ecommerce, and lack of coverage is part of the problem, according to a new report from the Policy Exchange on UK broadband provision entitled The Superfast and the Furious.

A survey of 2,000 people and 500 businesses conducted by Ipsos MORI for the report shows that while the vast majority of small businesses have a web presence (79%) only a minority are ready to take bookings (34%) or accept payments (36%) online.

The report concludes that the Government should shift its focus away from investment to increase broadband speed and instead help the 10.8 million people who are not online and also do more to help small businesses.

And the survey shows support for this stance, with 64% of respondents agreeing that good basic broadband coverage for the whole country is more important than chasing very fast speeds in some areas at the expense of others.

Chris Yiu, author of the report, said: "The government's current spending plans will extend fast broadband to the vast majority of people. Any further public money should be spent on making sure we are putting this to good use."

Graham Walker, CEO of Go ON UK, the digital skills alliance, said: "We need universal broadband access and greater investment in the digital skills and capabilities of individuals and businesses."

Commenting on the report, Professor Neil Hoose, infrastructure committee chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said: "While super-connected cities might be described as superfast, many small businesses in rural areas are the furious, suffering from inadequate broadband access for their business needs – or no broadband at all."

The report says that the government should see out its current spending plans to extend superfast fixed broadband to 90% of the country, to accelerate the roll out of 4G, and to deliver on the 2Mbps universal service commitment for 2015. Then, it says, it must focus spending on empowering consumers and businesses to make best use of the internet.