Gigabit uptake good but smart city a 'long game'

Gigatown was won a year ago today by a fervent and united Dunedin.

The city beat fellow finalists Wanaka, Gisborne, Nelson and Timaru to take a prize that included $700,000 worth of grants to the city and subsidised gigabit internet for three years.

Dunedin's spoils have since increased, with infrastructure company Chorus adding another year to the city's gig subsidies while bringing forward the completion of the city's fibre network by two years.

That means almost every Dunedin property will have fibre to the gate by the end of 2017, with gig plans being subsidised to the level of basic broadband prices until February 2019.

Latest figures, from September 30, announced this week by Communications Minister Amy Adams showed Dunedin's ultra-fast broadband rollout was 53% complete.

That meant 29,758 homes, schools and businesses were able to connect to gigabit internet.

A Chorus spokesman said the latest uptake figures, from earlier this month, showed 2457 Dunedin customers were connected to gigabit plans and a further 6957 customers had fibre connections.

Gigabit plans cost the same or less than fibre plans as long as Dunedin's Gigatown subsidies remained, and delivered significantly faster speeds.

Chorus' chief commercial officer, Tim Harris, said the company was ''really encouraged'' by Dunedin's gigabit uptake, as well as other developments across the city.

''And we're looking forward to continuing to support the city in realising its true potential as a smart city in 2016.''

The world's first ''gig-city'', Chattanooga in Tennessee, began its gig rollout in 2010. That city now boasted a strong and growing economy based largely on a surging tech industry.

The president of its Enterprise Centre, Ken Hays, said Dunedin's progress in its first year had been ''remarkable'', in part due to Chorus' investment and commitment.

But it was also important Dunedin understood transforming into a gig-based smart city was ''a long-term process''.

An undercurrent of disappointment with Dunedin's response to its gigatown win had been noticeable, the Digital Community Trust's Sarah Simmers said.

The trust had been involved from day one with running the campaign and leading the city's response after its win.

Part of the disappointment had stemmed from false expectations, including expectations of a faster fibre rollout, she said.

''That was never promised. It was about the $700 thousand cash [in prizes]. It was about mega-fast internet for cheap for three years.

''I can understand that there have been some frustrations about a lack of action but I think we're coming out the other side of that now.''

And the ''pro-Dunedin buzz'' of a year ago was starting to return, she said.

''We're certainly heading in the right direction. I think it's a long game but, that said, there are people who are benefiting from it already.''

Digital Community Trust chairman John Gallaher said Dunedin's impression of its Gigatown win had shifted ''in the past few weeks''.

''The city is beginning to understand the opportunity gig offers. There is a confidence emerging.''

There was also a ''growing recognition'' the effort Dunedin expended to win Gigatown was now translating into ''real, tangible outcomes'', he said.

''The energy and enthusiasm is incredibly encouraging.''

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said the city was ''really starting to make some traction'' with its gig infrastructure. The goal for the next 12 months was to ''try and keep up the efforts on all fronts''.

craig.borley@odt.co.nz

Milestones
Free public gigabit Wi-Fi in the Octagon
Appointment of a full-time gig-dedicated role
October's rebranding to ''GigCity''

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