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Is slow broadband holding back London’s tech startups?


Will Harnden is chief marketing officer at Relish, a communications provider for central London. In this article, he explores the current state of broadband in London.

London, a city renowned for its rich culture and creative vanguard, is currently experiencing a perfect storm. Funding opportunities, fresh industrious ideas and a thriving tech industry have made London one of the top European cities to start a business in.

Yet, when it comes to their broadband, many small businesses are left feeling frustrated by obtuse contracts, a lack of transparency from their service providers and painfully slow broadband speeds.

In one of the world’s leading business hubs, with vast tech business and expertise, getting online should be easy and simple. It’s not something contemporary businesses should have to stress, or worry about. With the majority of London’s startups being heavily reliant on a brisk and efficient internet connection, the state of the broadband scene in London is slightly concerning to say the least.

According to a Federation of Small Businesses study carried out last year, 94% of businesses feel a reliable internet connection is crucial to the successful growth of their business, with almost all of them now needing an online presence and interaction to some degree.

However, recent research from Ofcom has revealed that one in five SMEs in the UK are not satisfied with the broadband speeds they are currently paying for.

Code of practice

With the big broadband providers not doing enough to adapt to the evolving business landscape, Ofcom recently stepped in and announced the introduction of the ‘Voluntary Business Broadband Speeds Code of Practice’. This is a voluntary commitment from internet service providers to deliver ‘accurate and transparent speed information on standard business broadband services at point of sale, manage business customers’ speed-related problems, and allow customers to exit the contract without penalty if speeds fall below a minimum threshold.’

“Too many [businesses] buy unsuitable broadband packages because of confusing or insufficient sales information, or are hampered by slow speeds after they’ve signed on the dotted line,” said Ofcom’s chief executive Sharon White.

“When broadband companies fail to provide the speeds they promise, Ofcom has now made it easier for businesses to walk away from their contracts without penalty. Providers have also agreed to give clear and reliable speeds information upfront so business customers can make more informed decisions,” she said.

These changes which come into effect on the 30th September this year and should be a step in the right direction for the broadband industry, giving startups and businesses in the capital more freedom to search out the best deals possible and we hope that the legislation will remove some of the ‘hassle’ when changing provider.

As Relish continues to grow throughout the capital, we encounter many of the same challenges that the 420,629 SMEs in London also face when trying to grow their operations. This has helped to inform our approach to the way we do business.

Setting an example

We firmly believe the industry should set an example and support London SMEs by offering flexible services that accommodate the dynamic way they work. In one of the world’s leading tech and business hubs, getting online quickly and easily should not be a modern-day worry.

It’s not just business customers feeling the brunt of this bureaucratic nonsense either. Residential customers are suffering unreliable broadband services, complicated contracts and impenetrable small print too. Which is why the Advertising Standards Authority and Ofcom recently announced plans to regulate the way big broadband providers advertise.

We teamed up with Jasmine Birtles, founder of to help outline the financial implications of ‘too good to be true’ broadband deals on the consumer as well. Based on our research, we found the British public is spending an estimated £2.6bn every year on unexpected broadband and line rental fees. To put this in context, that’s the equivalent of purchasing 15 private islands, Buckingham Palace – twice, or 30 private airliners!

While London has a thriving tech scene, is seems many broadband providers aren’t moving with the times, leaving plenty of businesses and consumers alike far from satisfied.