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The Dunedin City Council says an ultra-fast broadband network, dedicated to advanced research in New Zealand, is "underutilised" and should be opened up to the public.
Such a move could help bring truly rapid broadband to the city, providing data transfer speeds of up to 10 gigabits a second - about 2500 times the speed of a standard broadband connection.
Cr Dave Cull, chairman of the Dunedin City Council's digital strategy steering group, floated the idea in a letter to Communications and Information Technology Minister Steven Joyce on November 9.
His letter said the speeds that could be made available for wider use would "tower" over what was commercially available, and the council intended to investigate how use of the network could be "better leveraged".
That included exploring ways of expanding eligibility for membership of the network, which would help Dunedin improve its digital capabilities, Cr Cull said.
Contacted by the Otago Daily Times yesterday, Cr Cull said the proposal would need further consideration by the council's digital steering group.
"What we do know is it's extremely fast and it's got a huge capacity and it's utilised about 5%.
"It seems to be a big facility being underutilised," he said.
The private network - Kiwi Advanced Research and Education Network (Karen) - was launched in 2006 to service universities and other education and research-oriented organisations.
It was operated by Research and Education Advanced Network New Zealand Ltd, a Crown-owned company, and linked to 69 organisations across the country, including the University of Otago and Invermay Agricultural Centre.
The Government invested $43 million in the project, and a further $16 million earlier this year to extend the network's use to 2013.
The network cost about $12 million annually to run.
A Research and Education Advanced Network spokeswoman said no-one was available yesterday to comment on Cr Cull's suggestion.
The Karen website said capacity on the network was overprovisioned to guarantee reliability and performance.
Cr Cull's suggestion was part of a push by the council toencourage the development of high-speed broadband networks and content within the city.
The council's steering group, including representatives from the health, business, education and information technology sectors, was formed earlier this year and had begun work on a digital communications strategy.
A draft was expected to be finished by March or April next year, and would examine a host of issues relating to the development of high-speed broadband infrastructure and access to content in the city, he said.
The council had allocated $50,000 for the development of the strategy, and earlier this week Effectus Ltd was named as consultant to work on the strategy.
Aurora Energy Ltd, a council-controlled organisation, had developed a 10km trial fibre broadband network in the inner city which was trading as the Flute Network and had attracted 10 customers.
The company had also applied to become a partner in the Government's $1.5 billion ultra-fast broadband investment initiative.
Cr Cull said there was much work still to be done, including a better understanding of the objectives the city should aim for in the development of broadband infrastructure.
Access to the Karen network - if it came about - would be only one part of the puzzle, he said.
The Karen network
- What: An ultra-fast broadband network launched in 2006.
- Who for: Set up to service universities and research organisations.
- Cost so far: $59 million with $12 million annual running costs.
- Proposal: Open up to public use in Dunedin.