The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has claimed many rural firms are in a “digital slow lane” compared to counterparts in the city.
New research from the organisation surveyed a number of small rural businesses last month and of these, 49% said they were dissatisfied with the quality of their broadband provision.
According to FSB, this is nearly double the level of satisfaction of urban small businesses, where 28% reported being dissatisfied.
The research also predicts that this issue will grow worse over the next two years as small companies become more reliant on a high quality Internet connection to do business.
Of those polled, 77% said email will be critical to their business in this time period and 57% said broadband will be essential for engaging their customers.
The study claims that the current lack of broadband infrastructure serving small firms threatens the expansion of the £400bn rural economy.
Areas of broadband causing concern were reliability with 47% dissatisfied, speed with 61% dissatisfied and download speed, also with 61% dissatisfied.
FSB claims this represents nearly a 50% gap in reported satisfaction levels with comparable urban businesses.
“This research paints a worrying picture of a divided business broadband landscape in the UK and unless addressed highlights a clear obstacle to growth in coming years. We risk seeking the emergence of a two-speed online economy resulting from poor rural broadband infrastructure,” claimed FSB national policy chairman Mike Cherry.
“It’s worrying that as many as 14% of UK small firms still view the lack of a reliable broadband connection as being the primary barrier to their growth. A reliable connection is now viewed as a key business requirement by 94% of small UK businesses, yet continued poor connectivity in rural areas represents a huge missed opportunity for economic growth in many parts of the country.
“These gaps and weaknesses need to be addressed as a matter of priority with the minimum of 10Mbps to all businesses premises by 2018/19 and a pledge to deliver minimum speeds of 100Mbps to all by 2030,” Cherry added.
While the FSB acknowledges much progress has been made towards improving the state of the Internet in the UK in recent years, it believes much more can be done.
Under the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) scheme, the government has promised to deliver speeds of 24Mbps to 95% of all users by 2017, but the organisation says this target is not ambitious enough.
FSB claims that just 16% of rural businesses has access to superfast broadband and BDUK will still leave 5% receiving just 2Mbps – a broadband speed it says is barely sufficient for even basic tasks.
As a result of its research, the organisation is calling upon Whitehall to conduct a comprehensive review of broadband policy, including measures to encourage more competition for better packages in the business broadband market.