Thought for the day:Brush up your broadband

Peter Scargill, national IT chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, takes issue with BT's broadband outlook.Ben...

Peter Scargill, national IT chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, takes issue with BT's broadband outlook.Ben Verwaayen, the chief executive of British Telecom, last week said in a column appearing on CW360.com that broadband could be the key driver for creating IT-enabled small businesses.

He went on to say BT is "working relentlessly to provide services country-wide". That will be a surprise to many members of the Federation of Small Business.

I agree with BT that broadband will bring spectacular benefits, but we have just completed a national survey of our 170,000 members and it is a damning indictment of what has been achieved so far. We found just 4% of small businesses are using broadband. This suggests a series of problems. There is a lack of understanding of the benefits broadband can bring, concerns over increased costs and, let's be honest, for many small businesses, there is no need for anything other than the occasional connection to the Internet, for which 56K modems are perfectly adequate.

Some of this is presumably down to poor marketing from BT and some is down to the poor performance experienced by early adopters of BT's broadband service.

With an almost non-existent take-up from small businesses, providers like BT should be thinking hard about how to improve their message. Around 95% of British businesses employ fewer than 10 people and with a £1,000bn contribution to the economy, they form a market that should not be ignored.

Verwaayen's enthusiasm is welcome, but BT has been guilty of dragging its feet on broadband and it has had to be constantly pushed by the regulator to reduce telecoms prices to business.

That is why it is not good enough for him to say 66% of UK businesses are connected to broadband-enabled exchanges and then tell us that demand is the key to getting broadband rolled out elsewhere. BT has an obligation to develop that demand and obviously has a long way to go! Deeds speak a lot louder than words.

How would having a broadband connection change your business? >>
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Peter Scargill
is national IT chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses.

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