Bristol consistently ranks among the top spots to set up and run a business. In our increasingly digital-first economy, the city is awarded second in the UK for connectivity, just behind London, according to the 2018 Connection Nations report.

Great news for the South West’s many budding entrepreneurs and another reason for regional positivity when it comes to future economic growth.

Except that, when you move outside of the city gates, a very different picture of connectivity presents itself. The majority of the South West still endures slow, overpriced and unreliable internet connections that leave rural businesses struggling to compete in the digital era.

With more customers looking to transact with businesses online, more vital business services moving to the cloud, and more would-be entrepreneurs reliant upon digital technology to deliver their breakthrough innovations, it’s clear that such inadequate infrastructure threatens the region’s longer-term business potential.

Watch out for the fake fibre

If they’re seriously trying to compete in the global economy, South West businesses have a right to expect better broadband. And yet, right now many of them find themselves confused by misleading broadband terminology and duped into signing up for substandard services.

These businesses know that they should be investing in fibre broadband because they’ve (correctly) heard that fibre is faster, better, future-proofed. But in fact, they’re being sold ‘fake fibre’ services masquerading as the real thing.

It beggars belief, but some service providers are falsely advertising and promoting fibre services that still rely on antiquated copper phone lines for the last mile connection into the business premises. And they’re getting away with it.

Fortunately, the future is getting brighter. A combination of public and private money is being invested into the region to drive digital transformation and set the scene for a prosperous digital economy in the South West.

But in the meantime, what should businesses be looking for when they’re contemplating an increasingly essential broadband upgrade?

1. Reviewing current provider and package. Are you paying for a superfast broadband connection, for a fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) connection or for fibre to the premises (FTTP) connection? What is the speed that’s offered? Is this average or guaranteed? Find out exactly what’s included in the package. You can also carry out a free speed check online to find out whether the package matches up to reality.

2. Considering business needs. How many people are sharing your connection? What does your business require broadband for? Is your current broadband fit for meeting these needs? What about the future – for example, are you considering adopting more cloud-based services in the near term? Ofcom offers free advice and resources to ensure you’re getting a fair price for a fair connection.

3.  Filtering out the fakes. The key is looking for a provider that offers genuine ultrafast broadband – that’s full, not partial fibre. It’s complicated because many service providers pass off the latter as the former, however, help is at hand. Organisations such as Which? and uSwitch provides detailed, independent guidance about each provider’s services. When in doubt, contact the provider and ask them for clarity. If they can’t give you a clear answer, it’s probably not full-fibre.

4. Look for demand-driven providers. In recent years, a raft of new broadband providers has emerged that are using a different business model in order to deliver ultrafast broadband to traditionally hard to reach areas whereby, if a certain percentage of a community agrees to sign up, they’ll go ahead and get the infrastructure built. If you don’t have access to ultrafast broadband in your community right now, it might be time to search out one of these alternative providers.

Unlocking the true value of our digital economy requires every business in the rural South West to gain access to the best possible connectivity. In the longer-term, this has to mean true ultrafast connectivity for every business.

Yet even in Bristol, only 6.9% of properties currently have access to ultrafast broadband, says Connecting Bristol. The city is standing in silver position when it comes to connectivity, but it’s time for the entire region to start going for gold, both with our broadband and our business.

Evan Wienburg is co-founder and CEO of TrueSpeed Communications, a full fibre infrastructure provider and ISP that offers ultrafast, future-proofed broadband connectivity to households and businesses – initially in the South West of England. He has run large multi-national IT programmes in the past and, seeing the opportunity to build a lasting and vitally important infrastructure, he co-founded TrueSpeed in 2014.  He then secured an investment of £75 million from Aviva Investors in 2017.  Evan is a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute (FCMI), a chartered manager, and a Member of the City and Guilds Institute.