By Kathryn Rogers, Managing Associate, Cripps LLP

Have you experienced problems with your communications services? Ofcom is concerned that SME’s aren’t benefitting as they should from high quality digital communications and so has recently announced a programme of work aimed at helping SME’s take advantage of the competition and innovation in the market, including:
- identifying ways to fill the gaps in superfast broadband coverage;
- prioritising ‘business connectivity’ (and in particular looking at “leased lines” which some SME’s use);
- assessing the effectiveness of the protection available to SME’s from problems with bad service and switching providers.

Although Ofcom’s research found that the majority of SME’s say they are well served by the communications market, SME’s can find themselves stuck in the middle when it comes to bargaining position and protection - not benefitting from the buying power of larger businesses which enable them to take advantage of a competitive market, and not getting the more extensive legal protections available to consumers. It remains to be seen whether Ofcom can address these issues.

Perhaps of more practical and immediate assistance to SME’s, Ofcom has also launched a web portal offering advice and support specifically for businesses, including guidance on what to consider when choosing your services and provider; how to change provider; what to watch out for when signing up for a service; contracts and the things you might consider before signing up; how to complain and where to go for help should you need it; and Ofcom's role, the rules communications providers must follow, and your rights as a business.

Within the “Contracts” link on the portal sits a useful checklist of what businesses should consider when taking out a new contract for landline telephone, business and mobile phone services, including guidance on:
- core subscription prices and types of contract (fixed, tiered or variable);
- automatically renewable contracts;
- minimum contract periods and early termination charges;
- mid-contract price rises;
- making complaints (including disputing bills) and using ADR; and
- statutory protections like the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977.