Businesses beleaguered by broadband woes

16 Oct 2018

Today has been another of those days when my colleague asked if she could reboot the BT router to see if our broadband connection would improve. It didn’t. At speeds of 0.65MBps we struggled even to send emails. According the global broadband league table, we’re on a par with Somalia’s national average, only East Timor, Turkmenistan and Yemen are slower.

According to BT there’s no problem with our – supposedly acceptable – ‘self-burying line’ (so called because it lies in a ditch and buries itself in the mud over time, oh, and, given our narrow roads, it’s frequently driven over by all sorts of laden rural vehicles so has been repaired innumerable times). Two back-ups of a satellite connection and, soon, a 4G receiver (costing me close to £2,000 annually) are the only thing that allows us to be based where we are and to do what we do.

I’ve built my business in a rural place because I work for agricultural and rural clients and I employ rural people. Small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) are a vital pillar for the Scottish economy. A rural location mustn’t make us bottom of the list to receive improved digital connectivity, if we want Scotland’s rural economy to prosper.

So, I’ve been proactive. I’ve contacted local MSPs and MPs (thank-you David Duguid MP, Stewart Stevenson MSP and Peter Chapman MSP), all have lobbied my case in Parliament, but there’s little they can do to change my situation; seemingly it is unlikely that our line will upgraded to fibre until 2021.

I’ve also contacted BT regarding the installation of a dedicated gigabit line, they have been exceptionally keen to help; I’m assuming because someone else could foot the bill for the work. There is no way that I can afford the installation and £8,500 annual service charge, nor should I have to.

However, my most powerful argument for serious Governmental engagement lies in a broadband survey I’ve run amongst my fellow 500+ Scottish Enterprise Rural Leaders, invested in by the Scottish Government to help drive growth in our rural economy.

186 rural leaders responded to the survey. Their businesses range from £100k to over £5m turnover enterprises. Of them, 73% said that their speeds were unsatisfactory or very unsatisfactory and 61% said that their speeds were less than 3MBps – equal to Guatemala. Their comments were tragic, many citing the loss of business, others having to drive to a city hotel to work and some having to relocate to a town, because rural working is impossible.

What will it take for BT and the Government to wake-up to the impact of not tackling this problem? One thing is for certain, our woeful situation won’t aid our ability post-Brexit.

Jane is a Chartered Marketer with over 25 years’ experience in marketing within the agri-food sector. She is a member of the executive board of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists and the council of the British Guild of Agricultural Journalists. Jane is a graduate of the IAgrM and Scottish Enterprise Rural Leadership Programmes, is a Windsor Leadership Alumna and a Waitangi Scholar.