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Bill Bennett


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 announced 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.



3 thoughts on “Why Gigatown is not a waste of money

  1. Telecom NZ is about to push the accelerator on its nationwide Wi-fi hotspot network.
    It will add gigabit Wi-fi sites in high traffic locations.
    The company says the so-called hero sites will be in railway stations, airports and other places with high data demand.
    Gigabit Wi-fi coming to a town near you
    Telecom NZ says it will reward towns with the fast Wi-fi hotspots as the prizes in a competition like the Chorus’ Gigatown promotion.
    It hasn’t decided the competition details yet. But it will coat-tail the GigaTown brand as GigaWiFi. The competition aims to create more user interest in the company’s wi-fi network.
    Giga-this, giga-that
    As the name suggests, there is a link between the two campaigns
    Ed Hyde from Telecom Digital Ventures — the business unit handling the wi-fi hotspot network — says the two are complimentary because Wi-fi expands the fibre network’s reach.
    He says the benefits run both ways: “Having good fibre connectivity is essential to realising the full potential of Wi-fi.”
    Singing from the Chorus song sheet
    Chorus’s Gigatown promotion increased user interest in the company’s fibre network. It gives Chorus a positive news story at a time the company faces criticism over the so-called ‘copper tax’.
    Telecom NZ says the GigaTown winner will also get a GigaWiFi hotspot.
    Until recently mobile carriers regarded public Wi-fi networks as a competitive threat. Two things changed that. First, carriers realised Wi-fi does a great job offloading heavy-duty data traffic.
    Second, wi-fi is a low-cost network add-on. Hotspots are cheaper to equip than cell towers and involve less planning paperwork. Cellular equipment makers are now adding wi-fi to their kit.
    Telecom NZ says the 1 Gbps Wi-fi delivers data faster than existing hotspots. It uses fifth generation Wi-fi. This is the 802.11ac standard which is backwards compatible with existing 802.11n devices. Some recent phones – although not iPhones – support the new standard and will be able to use the faster speeds.
    Like this:Like Loading…


  2. Doesn’t anyone else smell a rat here? A big commercial Trojan rat? Next stop, Stephen Joyce tells BP to organize a competition to win an ultra-fast fracking plant for one lucky town.


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