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Country connectivity

It can be a challenge doing business in the countryside when your broadband doesn’t work, and it’s a headache for FMs says Mike Surrey, Chief Executive of Gigaclear

For most businesses today, being able to operate online – to raise awareness, sell products or engage with customers – is as indispensable as having electricity. It is so ingrained in the basic day to day operations of running a business that most would struggle without it. Sadly, this has become a reality across the UK and a cause of frustration for many businesses and facility managers in particular.

In fact, rural business owner James Dolleymore, experienced the impact that slow and unreliable broadband can have on a small business first hand. James moved to the countryside from London to start his own business running several holiday cottages. Before being connected to ultrafast broadband, he didn’t even have enough speed to upload pictures onto his website, let alone take bookings online. He even had to physically go into the bank to conduct all transactions. On top of all the typical hurdles experienced by business owners on a daily basis, not being able to generate awareness and complete orders or bookings due to poor connectivity is the last thing they need.

James isn’t the only one suffering at the hands of an ancient connection, as Ofcom figures show 17 per cent of premises in rural areas cannot access a decent broadband connection. Considering 24 per cent of all registered businesses in England are based in hard to reach locations, this is an alarming amount of businesses that are being left in the digital slow lane. So, it’s easy to imagine how frustrating this could be for facility managers, especially those based in rural areas, when responsible for making sure business services are running smoothly and efficiently.

As technology and workplaces develop, more businesses than ever before are relying on cloud-based systems and e-commerce. In fact, the UK is the third largest e-commerce market in the world, with an estimated £533 billion worth of transactions taking place every year. But without the necessary connection, it would be near-on impossible for a business to stay in control of their online payments and order fulfilment. It would be easy to discount the contribution that rural businesses offer the economy, with many seeming too small to make much of an impact. However, recent reports have stated that rural businesses could be contributing up to £26 billion a year to the UK’s economy if their digital potential was fully enabled.

Increased investment in Britain’s digital infrastructure is the solution to ensuring we address this issue. Solving this will not only benefit the homes and businesses within these communities, but will also help to ensure the UK’s position as a leading digital economy, which sadly continues to lag behind other less economically developed countries.

Whilst the Government is looking to address this, there are numerous ways facility managers can ensure their business is getting the best service possible with the current technological limitations in their area. This could be as simple as talking to their current provider to see if there are any other potential packages or upgrades expected, or use the power of the community to instigate change.

As the first point of contact for suppliers, here is a list of simple questions that facility managers can ask their providers to check if their businesses’ current connection can be improved.

What type of fibre connection do we have / can we get?
Find out if you have a part or full fibre service as this determines the level of connectivity available. (Please see the full definitions below to help distinguish the different services)

FTTC (Fibre-to-the-Cabinet) – Part Fibre: the fibre optic cabling is laid to the cabinets, then uses century old copper phone lines to provide a broadband connection to the home or business. This is the most common type of “fibre” broadband advertised, limiting speeds to 24Mbps. Speeds also depend on distance between property and cabinet.
FTTP / FTTH (Fibre-to-the-Premises / Fibre-to-the-Home) – Full Fibre: 
the fibre optic cabling is laid to the cabinets, and then extended from the cabinet directly into the premises. This allows ultrafast speeds of up to 1,000Mbps (1Gbps). However, in the future this technology will allow for even faster speeds through the existing fibre cable.

Do you offer full fibre connections in our area?
If you currently have a part fibre connection and find your service is not meeting your expectations, then you may wish to investigate whether you can access a full fibre connection. Ask your provider if they offer this or enter your postcode in Gigaclear’s online checker to see if the service is available in your area.

What kind of speeds are best suited to our usage?
Make sure you tell your provider how your business uses the internet for (e.g. streaming, video calls or uploading documents), how many employees you have, and how many devices (phones, TVs or laptops etc.) you use. The more downloads / uploads and devices you use will have a direct correlation to the broadband package you need.

How can I check our speed?
If your provider’s website doesn’t have an online tool, then Which? has an easy-to-use tool that can check your speed for you.

Once armed with this knowledge, the facilities manager will know if they need to secure additional support in their campaign to secure full fibre. By becoming the champion for ultrafast broadband in their community, they can try to encourage an alternative provider to connect the area to its full fibre network.

Facility managers can start by encouraging their business to engage with other members of the community; chances are if one business is struggling, then others will be too. If this is the case, then it will be easier to make the business case for investment into the area, as 10 voices are a lot stronger than just a single one and can provide validation for investment. Once more people are on board, the next step is to approach either the local council or local broadband champion group (e.g. Superfast Hampshire for the Hampshire area) to see if they can help address the issue on the community’s behalf. Alternatively, once businesses or the champion group has the backing of the community, they can approach a supplier and make the case for why the area should be connected – and they just might be. This was the case for James Dolleymore and the community of Noke in Oxfordshire. After championing for better broadband, enough residents joined the campaign for Gigaclear to invest in the area.

Whilst there is unlikely to be an overnight solution to securing better broadband, it’s imperative to make a case and use your voice. The more people and businesses demanding a high-quality solution to our connectivity issues, the better for the economy as a whole.

About Sarah OBeirne

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