22 Oct 2014

Gigatown waste of money, say critics

5:22 am on 22 October 2014

Chorus' ultra-fast broadband competition Gigatown is a waste of money and is stealing copyright, critics say.

Finalists Gisborne, Nelson, Timaru, Wanaka and Dunedin are racing to get a subsidised supply of the fastest internet service in the southern hemisphere as part of the Government's fibre roll-out.

Banners advertising the competition in Dunedin's Octagon.

Banners advertising the competition in Dunedin's Octagon. Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

In Dunedin, blue Gigatown banners festoon the Octagon, full-page newspaper ads scream about it and social media like Twitter is soaked with it.

Dunedin businesses and the city's council have spent about $300,000 trying to win. Other finalists are putting in similar efforts.

The chief executive of business internet provider DTS, Brendan Ritchie, said that meant lines company Chorus and the many entrants have wasted millions of dollars on a lottery.

Mr Ritchie said if councils had invested that money into connecting apartments and other buildings to the ultra-fast broadband network, they would already be well-connected towns.

He believed technology has moved on.

In the year the competition has taken, the gigabit per second data internet speed promised by Chorus to the winning town has begun being offered by a competitor to homes in the central North Island, and it is already available to many businesses.

But Mr Ritchie said not many have yet signed up because of the cost barriers.

Dunedin is competing against Gisborne, Nelson, Timaru and Wanaka.

Dunedin is competing against Gisborne, Nelson, Timaru and Wanaka. Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

Chorus accused of stealing copyright

Dunedin designer Paul Le Comte said faster internet has got to be welcomed - but the competition has major flaws.

Mr Le Comte said most designers and photographers are now staying well clear of using their images in support because the competition's terms and conditions mean Chorus gets to own the copyright.

"It's a pretty competitive business out there with not a lot of money in it to start with, and then to read the terms and conditions of Chorus where they are basically saying where the hashtag is being used with any of your photography we reserve the right to take that off you free of charge... [that is] not fun."

Another Dunedin designer Alex Gilks said he worries about the copyright problem, but also the way people are spending a lot of energy on what is primarily a promotion for Chorus.

"The collective thing is really good, and there's a lot of positive energy and enthusiasm and shared vision, but we've got to be careful not to confuse that with genuine community work or genuine activism."

Councils say money well spent

Half of each town's final score will come from a strategic plan showing how it would use giga-speed internet - which is about 100 times most people's current speed.

Sue Bidrose

Council chief executive Sue Bidrose. Photo: RNZ

To help, Chorus last week flew town representatives to Chattanooga, Tennessee, the United States' first giga-town.

Speaking from Chattanooga, the Dunedin City Council's chief executive Sue Bidrose defends the effort.

Dr Bidrose said all five towns are convinced they would not have done the work to prepare for gig internet speeds without the competition, but it is coming anyway and now they will be prepared to make the most of it.

On the copyright complaint, Chorus' external relations manager Steve Pettigrew said it has realised it was over-zealous in the fine print and is happy to sit down with anyone who has lost control of their work.

However, Mr Pettigrew said Gigatown was never a public relations exercise for Chorus, more an enabler for one town to show what fibre could do for all of New Zealand.

"Places where gigabit services have been in play for some time, like Chattanooga, are still experiencing and understanding how they can make the best use of it. It's a service which is ahead of its time in that regard."

The Gigatown winner will be announced next month - but what that town has really won may take much longer to work out.

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