2 min read

Why Gigatown is not a waste of money

On Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report critics describe Gigatown as a waste of money.

Gigatown is a year-long competition run by Chorus.

It promotes the company’s UFB fibre network being rolled out to urban New Zealand. The prize will see the nation’s switched-on town get 1Gbps broadband connections ahead of the rest of the country.

Part of the competition involves townspeople using social media hashtags to promote their entry. There are quizzes and voting for favourite towns. Most of the competition points come from towns submitting plans on how they will use 1Gbps fibre.

Gigatown finalists

Chorus will announce the Gigatown winner at the end of November. The competition is now down to five finalists: Dunedin, Gisborne, Wanaka, Nelson and Timaru. Each of them has cranked up its efforts in a final push to the finish line.

Some towns have spent ratepayer funds on the competition. In the sound clip Brendan Ritchie, CTO of business ISP DTS, says the money could be better used connecting apartment blocks to the fibre network.

Ritchie has a point. The issue of who pays to connect so-called multi-unit dwellings is a roll-out roadblock. Someone has to pay. Landlords seem unwilling. Most New Zealand tenants have short leases giving them little incentive to invest in building infrastructure.

The sums spent by councils on Gigatown to date are not huge. They wouldn’t buy many extra connections.

Promoting a town’s commercial interests is a higher council priority than subsidising the commercial roll-out of a fibre network. That’s politics for you.

Money well spent

I’d argue the money is well spent. Gigatown has done wonders for creating interest in the fibre network. This isn’t just true in the five finalist towns. Other places, including Porirua missed out on the shortlist, but played a good game.

Gigatown has excited ordinary people up and down New Zealand about a fibre network. They are more aware of its potential.

We’re not talking about hipsters and geeks in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Gigatown reaches ordinary people in small towns. They have the most to gain, but are often left out of this kind of debate.

In fashionable jargon terms, there’s been a ton of community engagement.

The critics argue that Gigatown is a commercial promotion. Chorus isn’t a charity. It is in the business of building a network to make money for shareholders.

Gigatown is part of the UFB job

When Crown Fibre Holdings appointed Chorus to the job of building networks, part of the deal was that Chorus would promote UFB. That was never going to be easy. Chorus doesn’t sell direct to customers, so any promotion would have to be indirect.

Gigatown has fulfilled that mission and done it well. No other fibre company has been as successful drumming up interest in the UFB network.

Better still. All the five finalist towns and some of the also rans now have plans for making the most of fibre. Even if only a fraction of these plans see the light of day, there will be economic and social pay-offs.

Faster and faster

When Gigatown started last year, the fastest residential UFB plans on offer were for 100Mbps down. At the time 1Gbps looked like a big deal. Since then 200Mbps plans have appeared and Ultrafast Fibre has said it can offer its customers 1Gbps.

Things move fast. The Gigatown winner’s speed advantage over other towns will only last for two or three years. Again that isn’t the point. The journey is more important than the destination. The real prize is recognition as New Zealand’s fibre-savviest town with the best plan.

Last week Chorus took a delegation from the finalist towns to see America’s Gigatown: Chattanooga. I look forward to the day when people from the rest of the world turn up to see how Gisborne or Timaru or Nelson use fibre.