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Hunt vows: 'UK will have fastest broadband in Europe by 2015'

Did I say best? I meant fastest - it's the same thing, right?

The government's pledge to provide countrywide broadband access by 2015 has received another boost from the Culture Secretary, who has promised the "fastest broadband of any major European country".

In a speech at Google's Campus in East London, Jeremy Hunt said that speed was the most important aspect of the government's original target to create the "best" superfast broadband network in Europe by the end of this Parliament.

"In defining 'best' you include factors like price and coverage as well as speed," he said. "But over the past two years it has become clear ... to be the best you need to be the fastest."

However opposition politicians accused Hunt of prioritising speed over access, repeating concerns raised by the House of Lords in its report into the government's broadband strategy last month. In comments made to the Guardian, Labour culture spokeswoman Helen Goodman said that the plans meant "millions of people will have to wait at least three more years for a broadband connection".

The government has previously said that it wants the UK to have the most extensive superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015, with access for 90 per cent of the country; the remaining 10 per cent will be able to access the internet at speeds of two megabits per second (Mbps) or above. 'Superfast' broadband is generally defined as delivering speeds of at least 24Mb per second, although it hopes to introduce 'ultrafast' speeds of between 80 and 100 Mbps in major cities. The average speed for a UK residential broadband internet connection reached 9Mbps in May, according to the latest figures from regulator Ofcom.

Citing the performance of UK networks during the recent Olympic Games, Hunt said that reliable high speed networks were "essential" for the UK's growing digital and creative industries including the BBC and the world's second largest independent television production sector, the UK's music industry and "some of the biggest" animation and video games industries in Europe.

"Getting the plumbing right for our digital economy is not just an advantage to consumers - it is also essential for our digital and creative industries, all of whom need reliable high speed networks to develop and export their products as they move large digital files around the world," he said. "Get this wrong and we will compromise all of their futures. Get it right and we can be Europe's technology hub, bringing together the best of Hollywood and Silicon Valley in one country with a huge competitive advantage in both content and technology."

In its report, the House of Lords Communications Select Committee criticised the government's broadband strategy for being too heavily focused on building increased speed of connectivity in specific areas, rather than ensuring that the public had access to a more consistent speed of service. It said that the government should "commit to reducing the digital divide" by instead encouraging faster fibre-optic connections to be built for as many homes as possible.

"It should be a fundamental principle of broadband policy that whatever measures are undertaken to enhance or extend its availability, they strive to bring about equality of opportunity to access broadband across all communities in the UK," the report said. "We recommend that future broadband policy should not be built around precise speed targets end-users can expect to receive in the short-term, however attractive these may be for sloganeers."

In his speech, however, Hunt said that a focus on speed was essential if the UK was to have a competitive broadband network.

"Today's superfast is tomorrow's superslow," he said. "Just as the last government was wrong to hang its hat on 2Mbps speeds, we must never fall into the trap of saying that any speed is 'enough'."

He added that fibre-optic connections would be available on demand to over two-thirds of UK householders by 2016.

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