Is it really broadband or bankruptcy for rural businesses?
The findings of the CLA make five main points:
- Businesses are having to pay for the full cost of broadband when sometimes only half - or less - of the advertised connection speed is available;
- Respondents felt that customer service is poor, particularly when the call centre fails to understand the problems involved;
- Communication between Internet Service Providers and their customers remains poor and in some cases, non-existent
- There remains, in practical terms, little genuine competition in the rural market.
- Rural businesses have not been able to piggy-back onto public sector broadband availability despite assurances that this would be the case.
The first point reflects a lot of media coverage that has been given to broadband speeds and pricing and is actually the result of changes to broadband pricing that occurred in 2004 with the move away from speed based pricing to Capacity Based Pricing (CBC), (2007 prices are shown here). The price for products under CBC is a flat rate, with the amount of backhaul capacity a provider buys being the variable component. This has been reflected in the wide range of products now sold based on how much of the capacity a customer wants to use, i.e. are sold with inclusive usage allowances. Roughly speaking a customer with an 8Mbps sync package will cost the same as a 1Mbps customer when they download an average amount of material in a day. Some broadband providers have retained a degree of speed based pricing, by mixing usage allowances and speeds but this is becoming less common.
Customer service has been a perennial problem in the broadband industry; the technical nature of broadband services can lead to confusion when trying to explain a problem. This is even more so for businesses where IT is just another tool rather than a core expertise. This can result in small businesses having intermittent broadband connections which can easily be resolved. One example of this could be company that had a slow but stable 0.5Mbps broadband connection, and then had an upgrade to a rate adaptive product which connects at 1.3Mbps now but can be unstable. Solutions do exist by forcing the connection back to a fixed speed profile, or considering items like an ADSL faceplate on the master socket, but how many providers actually provide help to this degree?
From the problems that show up on our forums things can often be improved with perhaps 30 minutes help from someone who understands the technology. The biggest problem is getting in touch with those that need the help and many may not even realise that their broadband could be more stable.