Ofcom has today outlined its programme of work designed to enable small businesses to get the best out of communications services in the UK.
According to Ofcom research published in August, the majority (85%) of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) - typically of up to 249 employees - say they are well served by the communications market. However, Ofcom research has also found that many SMEs have experienced problems with their communications services.
As set out in this year’s Annual Plan, business consumers are a critical part of the UK communications sector. Ofcom wants to ensure that they can take advantage of competition and innovation in the market wherever possible and receive regulatory protection where necessary.
Large businesses are typically able to secure good outcomes by virtue of their scale and a highly competitive market to supply services to them. Ofcom is concerned about whether or not similarly good outcomes can be achieved by SMEs.
Ofcom is undertaking a range of work to ensure that the market is delivering for SMEs.
Promoting widespread availability of superfast broadband. Ofcom’s autumn Infrastructure Report will assess the gaps in superfast broadband coverage for residential and business users in both rural and urban areas. Ofcom is already working closely with Government and industry to identify potential ways to fill these gaps. Better availability for SMEs as well as residential consumers is a priority.
Service quality and choice for SMEs. Ensuring high quality of service and choice are priority areas for Ofcom. Earlier this year, Ofcom started its review of ‘business connectivity’, which looks at how well competition is working in the provision of dedicated connections known as ‘leased lines'; these are used by some SMEs. However, many SMEs have diverse needs and may use a combination of business and residential services. Ofcom is examining how the market is serving such SMEs, alongside the broader review of business connectivity, and will consider whether regulatory intervention is necessary.
Protections for SMEs. It is important that businesses can navigate the market confidently, with effective protection and redress if things go wrong. Ofcom is reviewing how effective its consumer protection rules for telecoms (called ‘General Conditions’) are at protecting SMEs from problems like poor service and difficulties when switching provider. This review will assess whether the rules are providing the right level of protection for SMEs.
Supporting businesses in rural areas. Communications services like broadband and mobile can be particularly important for businesses in rural areas. Ofcom is working with its Advisory Committees in the nations to understand the experiences of small businesses in more remote parts of the UK. This will help shape future policies to support small businesses at local and regional level.
‘Contract checklist’ for businesses. The first part of Ofcom’s SME Plan is a ‘contract checklist’ for business consumers. Published today, this guide offers advice on what businesses should look out for when taking out a new landline phone, broadband or mobile phone contract.
Business consumer portal. Building on today’s guide, Ofcom will this autumn launch a web portal offering advice and support specifically for businesses. This will provide information on choosing a service provider, advice on resolving disputes and knowing your rights as a business.
Ofcom research on SMEs. Ofcom’s work to help SMEs is underpinned by extensive research, which will be published later this year. This looks at satisfaction of communication services among SMEs; awareness of new technology and different suppliers; data on switching and complaints and the prevalence of problems experienced by businesses.
Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: “We recognise what a critical sector of the economy the SME community represents, and how important digital communications technology is to this group of business consumers.
“While there have been developments in the range of services available over the past decade, we’re still not confident that SMEs are benefitting as consistently as they should be from high quality digital communications.
“Our work will help ensure that the market is delivering for businesses of all kinds and to make sure that the right protection is in place for them if it isn’t.”