Gigabyte fans spur council to mull options

CATHIE BELL
Last updated 13:03 06/02/2014
Debbie Carter
Emma Allen
Social campaign: Express reporter Sonia Beal and Marlborough Chamber of Commerce office manager Debbie Carter who is leading an online campaign to win Blenheim access to the fastest broadband in Australasia.
Gigatown
Deedee Bancroft
Future hashtaggers: Josh Martin, left, Tyrrell O’Connor, Jasmine O’Connor and Jamie-Lee O’Connor support the #GigatownBLN booth at the Picton Maritime Festival

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Blenheim could become the first town in the southern hemisphere to have 1 gigabyte broadband, even without winning the national competition to get it.

The Marlborough District Council yesterday rejected an application for money to compete in telecommunications infrastructure company Chorus' gigatown competition, but the enthusiasm of the #gigatownbln supporters has spurred the council to look at what it would cost to boost Blenheim's internet speeds.

The council's regional development and planning committee voted against granting the #gigatownbln team any council funds, but agreed to supply some in-kind help.

Mayor Alistair Sowman said after the meeting that the council was committed to attracting "smart and connected" businesses to Marlborough.

While not backing the volunteer group's request for funding, he did not want to stop the team's work, and wanted to look at the council installing the equipment needed for gigabyte internet speeds.

"We're so advanced with the fibre rollout that it gives us a real opportunity. Wouldn't it be great if Blenheim was first cab off the rank anyway?

"I'm not committed to the competition, but I am really interested in the concept. It's totally doable."

Lee Harper, the #gigatownbln co-ordinator, said Marlborough was in a good position as it had good ultrafast broadband fibre coverage and it would take only a $300,000 investment to get gigabyte speeds - much less than many other places.

Mr Sowman said if the costs were in that scale, it was not "out of the realms of possibility" that Blenheim could have gigabyte-speed internet.

A motion to match a potential $5000 grant from the Marlborough Chamber of Commerce was also defeated.

Councillors on the committee said they were unwilling to give ratepayers' fund to take part in a company's competition.

Peter Jerram said he found it "objectionable" that a publicly funded company was using the competition for its own marketing needs.

"The chances of us winning are up there with being struck in the backside by lightning."

Councillor Geoff Evans said he could see benefits from the increased internet speed for rural constituents, but was wary about granting funds with no other funding being provided.

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However, councillor John Leggett said the competition was an opportunity to bring everybody together.

Other councillors spoke in support, but they were not members of the regional development and planning committee and did not have a vote.

Jo Prigmore, the #gigatownbln team co-ordinator, said the council decision not to back the group financially was disappointing, but the in-kind support was welcomed.

"We're not giving up."

A focused campaign could see Blenheim in the top five by September, she said.

 

What does #gigatown mean?

Telecommunications infrastructure company Chorus is running a competition where towns use social media to get points. The top five in September go to the next stage, for one to be chosen to get a 1 gigabyte internet connection.

That speed connection means that a 60-minute film would take 2.8 seconds to download rather than about 28 minutes.

Businesses that upload or download lots to the internet would benefit. Health centres could use it to read X-rays online and other medical tools.

The American town that won a similar competition used it to create 6700 jobs, reversed population decline, and attracted high-value businesses, cutting pollution in the district.

 

- The Marlborough Express

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