‘Small businesses held back by poor broadband’

Tina McKenzie, policy chair, Federation of Small Businesses Northern Ireland. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Tina McKenzie, policy chair, Federation of Small Businesses Northern Ireland. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
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Small businesses are being held back by poor broadband and mobile connections, according to new research by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

The findings, revealed in FSB’s new digital infrastructure report ‘Lost Connection’, show that a third of firms (33%) are struggling with broadband speeds that are insufficient for their business needs.

Two in five (40%) say their broadband is not good enough for their future needs. Almost half (45%) cannot get a good connection on their mobile phones.

One third has reported that poor mobile and broadband connection has prevented them from contacting or being contacted by existing customers and a quarter believes that poor mobile coverage has led to a loss of business or sales.

FSB is also calling for a public commitment from government that every premises will receive download speeds of at least 10 megabits per second.

FSB NI Policy Chair, Tina McKenzie, said: “Unfortunately, this report lays bare the issues which small businesses face when it comes to connectivity right across the UK.

“Northern Ireland currently sits in last place amongst the four UK nations, when measured on key broadband or connectivity indicators. For business owners, who often work from home and are constantly on the go, having access to good broadband speeds and mobile service is absolutely vital to the day to day running of their business.

“While it was welcome that Belfast recently became one of the first UK cities to be 5G ready, there are still many parts of Northern Ireland where 4G services are difficult to obtain, causing immense frustration to businesses and consumers in the local community.

“The Department for Economy’s plan for enhancing broadband connectivity in NI, ‘Project Stratum’, is currently midway through the procurement process, and we are hopeful that, coupled with the ‘Full Fibre NI’ project, there is potential for significant improvements to be made across Northern Ireland.

“This report highlights the need for these projects to be progressed efficiently so we can at last see improvements for the households and businesses who continue to endure poor broadband connectivity.

“It is crucial that support for new infrastructure available through these schemes is not restricted by postcode and must benefit all those who need it.

“The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, recently made an ambitious promise of UK-wide full fibre or gigabit-capable broadband by 2025 - given broadband delivery is a devolved matter - it is vital that small businesses here are not put at a disadvantage because of the continued absence of the Northern Ireland Executive and must also see the benefits.”