80% of rural businesses agree that ultrafast fibre connectivity would have the single biggest positive impact on their business recovery post-COVID. In fact, 32% estimate it would help them recover twice as fast or more than without.

This insight comes as 85% of rural businesses report their current internet as being either poor but manageable (47%), or unmanageably poor (38%).

These findings are revealed in the Rural Business Report, which looks at the state and impact of rural internet speeds, published today by Gigaclear, the UK’s largest rural alt-net, in partnership with the Countryside Alliance,

The report, which surveyed more than 650 rural business owners, also found that one in five have had to resort to working out of a café or equivalent public space to get the internet connectivity they need to operate.

Other business owners have invested in 4G routers (45%), or satellite internet access (20%), on top of paying for their internet connection, to keep their businesses connected, significantly increasing business overheads when compared with urban businesses.

Whilst the vast majority (80%) of those asked said that ultrafast internet would have the single biggest positive impact on their businesses post-COVID, just 8% said more Government financial support would be the biggest help. Only 3% said a bigger talent pool to recruit from or better road conditions.  Only 2% said discounted importing and exporting.  Only 0.6% said cheaper property maintenance.

During the UK lockdowns, 14% of rural businesses closed permanently, but the rest saw their dependence on the internet increase for things like Zoom-based client meetings (70%), supplier communications (61%), online sales (42%), online marketing (35%) and keeping up with COVID rules (25%).

Gareth Williams, CEO of Gigaclear, says, “The pandemic sharply underlined the importance of internet connectivity.  For business leaders, myself included, maintaining any level of business continuity through the various lockdown periods would have been nigh on impossible without functioning broadband.

“But, despite having one of the most advanced and sophisticated economies in the world, there are still areas of England where internet speeds are unable to meet basic needs, such as sending an email or opening a webpage.

“Rural businesses remain at a major disadvantage because there are still some obstacles to overcome. The negotiation of land access is one of the most significant causes of delay to rural network rollout.

“This issue disproportionately impacts rural areas, as land holdings are often larger than in urban areas. Where urban network operators often have multiple build routes available to them at a similar build cost, rural rollout is then more likely to be dependent on a single critical path to be commercially viable. When land access cannot then be negotiated in a timely, reliable way, delays and descope of work are far more likely.

“As DCMS reflects on the responses to its recent consultation on reforming the Electronic Communications Code to simplify and accelerate fixed network operator land access, I hope this research reinforces the need for such reform.”

Sarah Lee, Director of Policy at the Countryside Alliance, says, “A successful rural economy is vital for maintaining a living and working countryside. As we move into a digital age the rural economy is becoming more reliant on digital connectivity.

“The countryside economy is already 16% less productive than the national average but has enormous untapped potential which good connectivity would help unleash. If you were to level up the countryside by delivering connectivity the economy has the potential to grow by up to £43bn in England alone.

“Whether you are running a farm B&B or a design agency, connectivity is vital for the success of any business. While the Government is hugely ambitious for a digital Britain, an ambition we fully support, it is currently the case that those running businesses in the countryside simply do not have the connectivity that they need and deserve. The Government must deliver on its ambition. Fundamentally, we should all be digitally connected, no matter where we live.” 

Digital Infrastructure Minister, Matt Warman, says, "Improving internet access is central to our plan to build back better from the pandemic and the government is funding the biggest broadband rollout in British history in order to dismantle the digital divide between urban and rural.

"Our record £5 billion Project Gigabit fund is prioritising bringing lightning-fast speeds to rural areas and we are exploring using innovative wireless and satellite technologies to connect the hardest to reach. We welcome Gigaclear's report and will consider its findings as we press on with our ambitious plans to boost businesses and stimulate investment in the UK's countryside communities."

To download the free report, click here.  To see if your property can be connected to Gigaclear’s ultrafast FTTP network, visit, https://www.gigaclear.com.  

*Data was collected from 651 survey respondents, all members of the Countryside Alliance, and all owners/operators of rural businesses, conducted between March and May 2021.

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