Ofcom launches initiative to plug SMEs' lack of confidence in communications services

Regulator Ofcom launches online portal to help business owners exploit commercial communications services

Communications industry regulator Ofcom has launched an online portal for owners of small business to help them get the most from the communications market

Ofcom's move came after finding many SMEs lack confidence in services and providers.

As part of the regulator’s SME Plan, Ofcom wants to ensure the communications market is delivering for SMEs, and they can benefit from competition and innovation.

Research commissioned by Ofcom found most SMEs feel well-served by the communications market as a whole.

Satisfaction with the services on offer was generally high, with 93% happy with their fibre broadband; 90% with smartphones; 88% with standard landlines; 87% with cable broadband; 85% with standard mobiles; and 77% happy with ADSL broadband.

But one in six said they did not really understand how communications services could help their businesses grow; and 34% said they had no confidence in identifying appropriate products or services.

Rural businesses were most likely to say they had experienced service availability problems, with 21% of SMEs in remoter parts of the country saying they could benefit from better access to communications services.

Ease of switching providers

When it came to switching, 77% of businesses had changed landline providers, and 87% of those that had changed mobile and broadband providers in the past two years said the process was very or quite easy.

However, 48% of landline, 37% of internet and 41% of mobile switches said they had encountered problems – commonly receiving bills for cancelled services, and experiencing service interruptions and delays.

Ofcom's new portal will include advice on choosing or switching between providers, navigating and negotiating contracts, and resolving complaints.

It also contains information on Ofcom's purpose and how it can help with businesses’ rights and protections, and the rules that communications providers have to adhere to.

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A number of respondents to Ofcom’s survey said they experienced problems with provision and reliability of communications services, so a further aim of the project will be to solicit further views on availability, choice and quality of communications services.

“SMEs are not benefiting as consistently as they should from high-quality digital communications,” said Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards.

“In particular, there is a greater need for more widespread availability of high-speed broadband and reliable mobile coverage.”

TalkTalk Business CEO Charles Bligh said industry needed to simplify offerings and provide lower-cost, more accessible broadband.

“We’re committed to lowering the cost of broadband, and encourage SMEs to demand better value from their service provider,” said Bligh.

“The industry needs to provide simple, accessible and reliable low-cost broadband packages that will ultimately allow SMEs to grow, prosper and drive the digital economy.”

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