U.K. Push For Better Broadband For Startups

U.K. telecoms regulator Ofcom has called for more to be done to improve broadband services for startups and SMEs, publishing a report assessing the problem and setting out an action plan to improve broadband provision for businesses with under 250 employees.

Just yesterday, during an event focused on pro-startup city government policymaking, Rohan Silva, former senior policy adviser to the U.K. Prime Minister and co-founder of the Second Home co-working space in East London, was joking about having to ‘beg, borrow and steal’ to procure a 2Gbps broadband connection for the co-working space.

There’s no doubt that getting fast fibre broadband remains a pain point for U.K. startups, even in the epicenter of London’s ‘Tech City’. And even where fibre is available, the time it takes to get broadband installed can be another frustration.

Ofcom said today it has secured agreements from three of the largest U.K. ISPs, BT, TalkTalk and Virgin Media, to work on a new Code of Conduct for business broadband services.

There is already a U.K. Code for consumer broadband services, which requires providers to give an accurate estimate of broadband speeds to a customer prior to installation; fix technical problems that might reduce speed; and enables customers to exit a contract if speeds remain below a minimum level.

Ofcom says the business broadband Code is expected to cover similar areas but notes it may need some additional tailoring for SMEs and startups — such as offering commitments relating to upload speeds as well as download speeds. It’s unclear if it will offer any commitments on reducing the time it takes to get a broadband line installed. The regulator is aiming to publish the Code this fall.

Ofcom is also actively looking at fibre broadband coverage for SMEs, noting that in June last year only 56 per cent of SME premises had access to superfast broadband, vs 75 per cent of all UK premises.

The government is continuing to invest in expanding broadband coverage but Ofcom says it’s concerned not all SMEs will benefit under current industry and government plans, citing analysis that suggests that by 2017, when 95 per cent of all premises are due to have access, almost a fifth (18 per cent) of SMEs “may still not be able to receive superfast broadband”. Today it’s recommending the government sets explicit targets for business broadband coverage to ensure SMEs aren’t left lagging behind.

It also wants SMEs to have the option to be able to pay for faster fault repairs — something that Openreach offers but which not all broadband providers offer to their business customers.

Earlier this month Ofcom introduced new rules making it easier for SMEs of less than 10 employees (and consumers) to switch broadband providers over BT’s network by only having to deal with their new supplier.