A ‘contract checklist’ designed to help the smallest businesses know what to look for when engaging a new landline, mobile phone or broadband provider is on offer from Ofcom.
The checklist, which also advises what to do if things go wrong, represents a starting pistol for the communications regulator to probe how smaller traders are being treated.
In fact, it will carry out a range of work now and in the autumn to ensure one-man bands are getting the best out of providers, and “will consider whether regulatory invention is necessary.”
Its work will include writing a report to “assess the gaps” in superfast broadband coverage in rural and urban areas, for both small firms (defined as having between 1 and 250 employees or less) and residents.
Focussing on both individuals and companies is necessary because “many SMEs” often use a “combination of business and residential” communications packages, Ofcom recognises.
The regulator’s bigger concern, however, appears to be two-fold. Firstly, it is that independent owners of small enterprises may be foregoing the protections afforded to consumers.
Secondly, while such owners can get business packages on broadband, their outfit may be too small to get the competitive rates that corporations easily persuade providers to give them.
Ed Richards, chief executive of Ofcom said: “Our work will help ensure that the market is delivering for businesses of all kinds and to make sure that the right protection is in place for them if it isn’t.”
To that end, a review is underway of whether consumer protection rules for telecoms are effectively protecting SMEs from problems like poor service and difficulties when switching provider.
That review will be informed by Ofcom’s Advisory Committees which will also help on the issue of rural broadband by relaying the experience of traders in remote parts of the UK.
Mr Richards said: “While there have been developments in the range of services available over the past decade, we’re still not confident that SMEs are benefitting as consistently as they should be from high quality digital communications.”
Alongside the new contract checklist, a web portal offering firms advice and support on choosing a service provider, resolving disputes and knowing their rights as a business will go live in the autumn.
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