Minister calls for cooperation over broadband

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt will today call on businesses to "collaborate and innovate" to give Britain the best broadband network in Europe by 2015.

Hunt is to make the appeal at today's Industry Day summit, held at the Department of Business, Industry and Skills, which brings together UK Government ministers, ISPs and telecoms providers.

In a statement released before the event, Hunt said: "There is currently nothing to stop telecoms or utility companies reaching commercial agreements to share their infrastructure, but very few agreements currently exist."

"Our broadband network is as fundamental to Britain's success in the digital era as the railway network was in the industrial age," Hunt continued. "By the end of this Parliament, this country should boast the best superfast broadband in Europe and be up there with the very best in the world."

The message from business, meanwhile, was blunt. Steve Robertson, chief executive of BT's wholesale broadband arm, Openreach, told the BBC that if the Government wants to roll out super-fast broadband, it needs to put its hand in its pocket.

In an interview yesterday on Radio 5 Live, Robertson said the plan could not go ahead without at least £2 billion of public money.

The Government has promised to provide connections of at least 2 megabits per second across the whole of Britain by 2012. At present, it is estimated that three million households are unable to access speeds of 2Mbps or more. Roughly 160,000 homes cannot receive broadband at all.

Current plans by providers to extend the UK's fibre optic network will still leave a third of Britain without access to next-generation broadband.

The situation is in stark contrast to that in fellow EU member Finland, which recently declared broadband Internet access as a legal right.

In his statement, Jeremy Hunt announced the launch of pilot projects to bring super-fast broadband to three rural areas later this year, but no further details have been released.