Thousands of homes and businesses in rural communities across the UK are being connected to superfast broadband today on what the government has hailed as the most important day so far for Britain’s superfast rural broadband rollout.

Towns and villages in Wiltshire and South Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Kent and Medway, Cheshire, the Cotswolds and Shropshire have been connected to superfast broadband as part of what the government has dubbed “Super Switch on Day”. 

The total number of premises in the Rural Broadband programme expected to have access to superfast speeds by Christmas now exceeds 200,000. The speeds allows consumers to stream HD films and businesses to use advanced video-conferencing.

The rollout is part of the £1.1 billion project to connect areas that are not commercially viable for existing broadband providers such as BT and Virgin.  

The government had aimed for superfast connections to reach a total of 90 percent of British homes and businesses by 2015, but now says it is on target to meet revised plans that will connect 95 percent by 2017.

It claimed the national rollout was accelerating, with 10,000 premises per week gaining access to superfast broadband, adding that this will increase to 25,000 per week in spring 2014, and up to 40,000 per week by summer 2014.

Meanwhile, in the private sector, some 73 percent of UK premises could connect to superfast broadband in June 2013, according to Ofcom. 

However, average broadband speeds across the UK are still considerably slower than other nations, according to the Net Index website. 

The website, which ranks countries based on their average download speed, puts the UK at 25th, with an average speed of 23.89Mbps. Elsewhere, countries like Hong Kong and Singapore top the list with speeds of 68.19Mbps and 56.05Mbps respectively. 

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said “The rollout of superfast broadband has the potential to transform rural areas, bridging the age-old gap between rural and urban. It will allow businesses to grow and expand and communities to access services in a way that they’ve not been able to before.”

Maria Miller, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, claimed the UK is now “well ahead of other major European countries in many respects”.