Britain's small businesses based in rural communities are becoming increasingly fed up with their broadband provision, according to new research from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).
The report revealed that firms in the countryside are almost twice as unhappy with their internet service compared to their urban counterparts.The organisation has predicted that this issue will become worse over the next two years as advances in technology and high-quality broadband connections become business-critical.
Almost half (49 per cent) of respondents in the FSB's research are dissatisfied with the quality of their broadband, compared to just 28 per cent of urban SMEs. A number of specific issues were highlighted, with 47 per cent complaining about the reliability of their connection and 61 per cent about speed.
More than three-quarters (77 per cent) said that email would become a business-critical function within the next two years, while 57 per cent described broadband as "essential" in engaging with their customer base.
According to the FSB, the lack of sufficient broadband infrastructure for small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) is a threat to the expansion of the UK's rural economy, which is currently worth around £400 billion and includes over one million firms.
The organisation's report also highlights particular concerns over the reliability of the broadband currently available in the countryside, as well as the upload and download speeds that can be achieved.
Commenting on the study, Mike Cherry, national policy chairman at the FSB, said: "This research paints a worrying picture of a divided business broadband landscape in the UK, and unless addressed, highlights a clear obstacle to growth."
He added that there is now a risk of a "two-speed economy" due to the poor broadband infrastructure available in Britain's rural communities.
In addition, Mr Cherry said that a reliable broadband connection is now perceived to be a key business requirement by 94 per cent of SMEs, but continued poor connectivity in rural communities represents a significant missed opportunity for economic growth.
"These gaps and weaknesses need to be addressed as a matter of priority with a minimum of 10 Mbps to all business premises by 2018/19, and a pledge to deliver minimum speeds of 100 Mbps to all by 2030," he continued.