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Ken Hays is president of the Enterprise Center, a nonprofit, city-based technology development group.

As America's first Gig City, Chattanooga is drawing global attention this week from telecom experts Down Under.

A 13-member delegation from New Zealand is visiting Chattanooga this week to learn how gigabit-per-second Internet service can spur economic growth. New Zealand's government has pledged more than $1 billion (U.S.) to fund construction of a fiber optic network across most of New Zealand that will match the speed of the fiber optic links built in Chattanooga two years ago by the city-owned utility, EPB.

Chorus, New Zealand's largest telecommunications provider, is extending gigabit-per-second speeds to 830,000 homes, schools and businesses across New Zealand over the next five years as part of the first widespread Gig web service in the Southern hemisphere.

"Chattanooga has a fantastic connected community here and is a real inspiration for us," said Karren Harker, corporate communications specialist for Chorus and one of the organizers for this week's visit. "We learned today about EPB's Smart Grid (made possible by high-speed fiber-optic links along electric lines) and we're eager to learn about other killer apps."

Government, business and digital specialists from New Zealand made the 8,000-mile trip to Chattanooga over the weekend as part of a Chorus contest called "Gigatown" to promote the benefits of the Gigabit-speed Internet. Gigatown's five finalist communities, all of whom have sent representatives to Chattanooga this week, include Dunedin, Gisborne, Nelson, Timaru and Wanaka.

Five finalist communities were selected out of more than 50 competing across New Zealand. The prize for the winning community includes town-wide access to a one gigabit per second (1Gbps) Internet connection at entry level wholesale broadband prices, along with two different funds worth $700,000 that will help to support business and community developments over the gigabit infrastructure.

"It's flattering that Chorus would be inspired by Chattanooga's infrastructure, and as importantly, our ability to leverage this incredible asset we have," said Ken Hays, executive director at the Enterprise Center, which is coordinating Chattanooga's efforts to commercialize its Gig service. "We're delighted to have Chorus' finalists spend a week here and look forward to learning from them."

Chorus is New Zealand's largest telecommunications infrastructure company with 1.8 million lines connecting homes and businesses. Chorus will build 70 percent of the government-funded fiber optic upgrade and three other local fiber companies will build the rest, Harker said.

Google Fiber is building networks for gigabit-per-second Internet service across Kansas City, Mo., Austin, Tex., and Provo, Utah in the United States. But EPB was the first to offer communitywide Gig connections of any city in the Western Hemisphere.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340.

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