City readies to take advantage of Gigatown

Gigatown was a hot issue at yesterday's long-term plan hearings, but concerns had already been raised. Vaughan Elder reports.


''No-one was prepared'' for what to do when Dunedin won Gigatown, the group working on the roll-out says.

Five months after the city won the Chorus-run competition, the social media noise which helped it win has gone quiet.

Digital Community Trust chairman Peter Hills said it had taken the trust, which was working with Chorus on the roll-out, longer than it would have liked to come up with a plan to take advantage of the win and source funding.

''A huge amount of effort went in by lots of people to win it, but no-one was prepared for how to implement it,'' trust chairman Peter Hills said.

The trust is about to employ someone to drum up interest in Gigatown on social media.

Telecommunications infrastructure company Chorus was pleased with the adoption rate, with more than 500 connections to the gigabit-speed service, spokesman Nathan Beaumont said.

Two out-of-town businesses had said they were moving to Dunedin to take advantage of gigabit speeds, Mr Beaumont said.

Mr Hill said in the absence of any noise about what was happening to take advantage of the Gigatown victory, the trust realised ''cynics and the naysayers'' were beginning to question the early hype.

But after the slow start, the trust was ramping up its activity: ''There will be some noise, where it definitely has been silent.''

The trust was also starting a project aimed at providing free gigabit Wi-Fi in parts of the city.

Last month, it employed former Dunedin City Council infrastructure and networks general manager Tony Avery as interim project manager.

The excitement would increase as people began to ''see something happening''.

The increased activity would include access to the $500,000 community fund administered by Chorus becoming available and progress on the allocation of $200,000 set aside by Chorus to support entrepreneurs.

Funding was still a stumbling block and the council's decision on whether to allocate $250,000 to implement a Gigatown strategy loomed large for the trust.

Dunedin was not alone in having issues following the introduction of gigabit speeds, with other cities around the world - including Chattanooga in the United States, whose success inspired the competition - experiencing the same thing.

Mayor Dave Cull said it was always going to take some time for the trust to transition from pushing for a Gigatown victory to building on that success.

''We all thought that Chorus would just stump up the money the day after, but really that was a bit unrealistic.''

The trust, which was separate from the council, had to set up robust and transparent processes before it received funding from the council or any other organisation.

''Council is not going to fund anything where it is not crystal clear where the money is going.''

Mr Beaumont said he believed adoption rates would pick up as Spark had launched its Gigatown plans and word of mouth about the benefits of gigabit speeds would spread.

Chorus was ''pretty happy'' with the introduction so far and would have more to announce about the prize money at the end of this month.

Mr Avery, who resigned from his council position last year, said he was ''hugely excited'' about helping the city take advantage of its Gigatown victory.

The lack of action since the city's win was raised at yesterday's long-term plan hearings by Dunedin South MP and Labour's information and communications technology spokeswoman Clare Curran and Digital Office contractor Josh Jenkins.

Ms Curran said the city needed to act quickly and supported the council providing funding for project management to oversee Gigatown.

''Gigatown needs visibility and it needs visibility very soon so the public expectations don't turn to public disgruntlement.

''I know that our city is being watched around the country as to what we do with this opportunity,'' she said.

Cr Aaron Hawkins said Ms Curran was not the first person to say the expectations the community had over Gigatown ''haven't been met'' and asked her how much of that was because those expectations were unrealistic.

''It was never going to rain free fast internet all over Dunedin, which was an expectation that some people involved in that campaign had,'' he said.

Ms Curran said expectations were perhaps unrealistic, but there had also been problems with the Chorus roll-out of ultra-fast broadband.

There were things the council could do immediately to push Gigatown, including offering free Wi-Fi in places such as the CBD or in South Dunedin.

Mr Jenkins told councillors the Digital Office, after a ''few apologies'', could help revitalise the community support which had waned in the last five months.

When asked by Cr Hawkins where the momentum had gone, Mr Jenkins replied saying: ''Once the campaign was finished that was our job done and the thought wasn't actually put into how to actually implement Gigatown.''

vaughan.elder@odt.co.nz

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