The government is calling on local authorities to accelerate broadband roll-out to help it deliver superfast broadband services to 90% of homes and business by 2015.
Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt addressed delegates at the Race Online 2012 conference today. He said all UK premises should have access to at least 2Mbps services. He added that superfast broadband should be available to 90 per cent of residents and business in each local council area.
BT and Virgin Media have identified two-thirds of the UK as economically viable for implementing superfast services. The government has committed £530m funding to support broadband roll-out in areas that fall outside.
Four rural areas were chosen as pilots for high-speed broadband last year. Jeremy Hunt said further high-speed rural broadband pilots will be announced on 27 May.
"If we press ahead with expansion of superfast capabilities, we can put the UK in the global fast-lane," he said.
"If we fail to do so then we apply a handbrake to growth precisely when we need to power ahead."
Local authorities are being encouraged to develop a plan for broadband roll-out in their area and apply for funding from the government pot.
"We have set aside the money and the expertise to make this happen. Now local authorities need to step up to the plate by bringing forward their own plans, setting out how they will deliver this level of ambition," said Hunt.
Several councils have already started the process, issuing contracts and tenders for communications providers to install the fibre infrastructure needed to support rural broadband.
A £132m project in Cornwall involving BT connected its first 50 customers in March, and in the same month Cumbria and Lancashire issued tenders worth and £121m and £40m respectively.
BT has said that if it were given most of the government funding, it could provide superfast broadband to 90% of the country by matching the cash itself, which has led to concerns from rural broadband campaigners that the telecoms giant might receive privileged treatment - although the culture minister has denied there will be a monopoly on broadband supply.
But other firms are showing growing interest in providing rural services - a group led by Fujitsu is to build a £2bn high-speed broadband network to reach five million homes in rural parts of the UK. The same group also wrote to broadband minister Ed Vaizey to express their concerns about BT's terms and conditions for providing access to its network of ducts and poles, which is likely to be important for building fibre links in many areas.