Super-fast broadband will be available to every home in the UK by 2020, the prime minister has promised.
In a speech Gordon Brown called super-fast broadband "the electricity of the digital age" which "must be for all - not just for some".
He warned of the risk of a "new digital divide" if the government leaves broadband supply to the market.
The Conservatives say they have made a similar pledge and have attacked a £6-a-year landline levy planned by Labour.
Both parties are claiming that they will do more to put government services online - and make Britain a world leader in the digital revolution.
In his speech, Mr Brown argued that faster broadband speeds would allow for cheaper and better public services as well as ushering in more sophisticated entertainment options and making trade easier.
He said: "We can allow the market to provide a solution on its own terms and according to its own timetable.
Tories pledge 'fastest broadband'
"The result would be super-fast broadband coverage determined not by need or by social justice, but by profitability.
"The alternative is our vision: ensuring, not simply hoping for, universal coverage."
Jim Knight, the minister responsible for digital inclusion, said the government had to intervene to ensure super-fast broadband reached remote areas of the country.
He told BBC Radio 5 live: "You offer incentives to the market to get to those areas that otherwise they're not going to be able to make a profit out of going to.
"By having universal access to this very high bandwidth which allows more streaming video, allows people to watch TV and listen to radio online, it means that we can also release the business and employment potential of this.
"If you just leave it up to the market it'll only go to into the cities, it won't get out into rural Cornwall for example without some form of public subsidy."
The government is planning a 50p-a-month levy on landlines to help ensure that rural areas do not miss out on a fast network.
The Conservatives have attacked the tax, saying they will force BT to open up its network to competition, and if necessary use cash from the BBC licence fee to fill in gaps in the fast broadband network.
In their "technology manifesto", the Tories have pledged to give Britain the fastest high-speed broadband network in Europe if they win the general election.
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