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Wanaka speeds ahead in New Zealand Gigatown contest

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Jumping on board the Gigatown Wanaka bus.

New Zealand communities are slugging it out to become the country’s first “Gigatown”. It’s part of a national government sponsored effort to build out a fiber-to-the-premise (FTTP) network to something like two-thirds of New Zealand homes and businesses.

Would-be Gigatowns are competing via social media to be “the first town in the Southern hemisphere to access a one gigabit per second (1Gbps) internet connection”. The more mentions on Facebook, Twitter and other designated social media sites, the higher a community ranks.

The current leader – by far – is Wanaka, a small South Island town about an hour drive from Queenstown at the foot of the Southern Alps. Its 836,000 #GigatownWKA hashtag hits puts it 500,000 mentions ahead of second place Oamaru, also a small South Island town.

Wanaka’s lead is the result of an all-out community effort to mobilise support. It’s a resort town that wants to boost the number of full time residents and develop a local economy that has more than just tourism as a driver. Much of the enthusiasm for Wanaka comes from people who don’t live there – yet – but hold out hopes of being able to telecommute if gigabit connectivity comes to town.

In certain respects, the Gigatown designation would be honorary. Chorus – the wholesale fiber company running the FTTP project – doesn’t intend to change its construction schedule. It’ll just light up whatever is already in place with gigabit service. If it’s commercially successful, expect Chorus to roll out the same level of service everywhere, via retail partners. But it’s a brilliant bit of marketing – with nearly 3 million total mentions so, the social media campaign is building awareness and enthusiasm in this country of about 4 million people.

There’s eight months to go in the first round of the competition, so there’s still plenty of time for larger cities to amp up the social media volume. But for now, Wanaka is the odds-on favorite.