26 Nov 2015

'Gig City' slow to impact Dunedin

8:50 am on 26 November 2015

The leaders of Dunedin's Gigatown project say it is like an iceberg which will soon emerge, after a slow first year.

Central Dunedin.

Central Dunedin. Photo: RNZ/Ian Telfer

A year ago today, Dunedin won Chorus's Gigatown competition, giving the city subsidised access to the fastest broadband (at one gigabit per second) in the Southern Hemisphere for three years.

It is hard to judge how much becoming Australasia's first 'Gig City' has really done for Dunedin yet.

Last month, free gigabyte speed wifi was launched in the city's centre, The Octagon.

More than $100,000 has been given to business projects using gig-speed internet.

A one year scorecard released by the Digital Community Trust pointed to Dunedin having the third highest uptake of ultra-fast broadband in the country.

It showed since February it had doubled to 22 percent of the population.

Central city retailer Cycle World is one company for which "the Gig", as it is now called in Dunedin, has made an impact.

With ultra-fast broadband, the company has been able to upgrade to what it said was the best bike fitting system in the world, a sensor-laden bike that sent measurements and live video to the bike maker in Melbourne using the new giga-bit speed internet.

Cycle retailer Matt Dunstan, with the new bike fitting system.

Cycle retailer Matt Dunstan, with the new bike fitting system. Photo: RNZ/Ian Telfer

Matt Dunstan said his shop was now attracting people from all around the South Island.

"Retail in a lot of instances can be forgotten, but for us it has made an absolutely huge difference."

Gig-speed internet is now changing his shop floor.

"All the staff have iPads now, and we are able to link directly to our suppliers' systems, to check what's in stock, what colours, things like sizing specs and all that," Mr Dunstan said.

"We're dealing with them right out there on the floor, without having to run to an office or behind a counter."

But one of Dunedin's foremost digital leaders, Ian Taylor, is getting frustrated.

Last week, Mr Taylor went to a Dunedin City Council meeting to tell councillors they were squandering the branding opportunity of being Australasia's first "Gig City".

"I gave a speech in Las Vegas for IBM to 22,000 staff, and I told them about this. When I came off stage, it's all they wanted to talk about," he said.

"They get this overseas. My frustration is I have seen no sign [the council] has really taken this on board."

Council chief executive Sue Bidrose agreed it probably should make more of the Gigatown brand, but said a lot had been going on below the surface to get funding, a worker, and a range of projects begun.

The council's work was really the least of it, she said.

All that was promised to the city was the fastest internet at the most basic price, and that was now, or would soon be, available everywhere in the city, Dr Bidrose said.

"Everything else that comes from that ... is about an entrepreneur, a person, a student, a mum, a librarian, having an idea and doing something different, because they have 'the Gig'."

John Gallaher, chair of the Digital Community Trust.

John Gallaher, chair of the Digital Community Trust. Photo: RNZ/Ian Telfer

Digital Community Trust chair John Gallaher said Gigatown was a long-term infrastructure project, and people needed to understand how much had had to happen behind the scenes first.

"It's a bit like an iceberg at the moment. A lot of the work has been getting us to where we can launch."

Mr Gallaher said the trust would now lift up its work and made the projects more visible to the city so it could take some pride in having won the competition.

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