Britain could have the best broadband in Europe but only if it avoids the mistakes made in developing high speed rail, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said today.
The development of Victorian sewer systems was a better model, Mr Hunt said, because they had been "future proofed" by designer Sir Joseph Bazalgette who built them six times bigger than needed.
Mr Hunt, who made his remarks in a speech at the Google-backed Campus in east London, said he wanted Britain to have Europe's fastest broadband by 2015.
He said since coming to office the coalition Government had made key changes to help deliver its commitment of superfast broadband - more than 24 mbps - to 90% of homes, and wanted to see the spread of speeds of up to 100mbps.
Mr Hunt said: "My nightmare is that when it comes to broadband we could make the same mistake as we made with high speed rail.
"When our high speed rail network opens from London to Birmingham in 2026 it will be 45 years after the French opened theirs, and 62 years after the Japanese opened theirs.
"But when it came to sewers, we got it right. In the 1860s Sir Joseph Bazalgette ignored all the critics when putting in London's sewers and insisted on making the pipes six times bigger than anticipated demand.
"Can we do it? I am convinced we can. Of course there remain plenty of hurdles: state aid clearance, planning foresight, contract management and delivery, challenges in our more remote areas.
"Let's also not forget some people also said that we could not host a great Olympics either. They were wrong. We've just hosted the greatest Games ever.
"So let's be inspired by that, let's aim high and make sure that broadband plays the definitive role in our economic recovery that we know it can."
But shadow minister Helen Goodman said: "Today was a chance for Jeremy Hunt to articulate a coherent vision of what Britain's broadband infrastructure should look like.
"He boldly declared that Britain will have the fastest broadband network in Europe but then offered no plan as to how he will make this happen.
"Under this Government, millions of people will have to wait at least three more years for a broadband connection than they would have with Labour's plans. No amount of fast-talk from Jeremy Hunt will disguise this Government's lack of a coherent plan for growth."