Whangarei has hopped off its bicycle and skyrocketed on to the information superhighway with the city now the first in the country that is fully connected to ultra fast broadband.
Prime Minister John Key, Minister for the Environment, Communications and Information Technology Amy Adams and a host of Northland dignitaries, political and community leaders descended on Manaia View School yesterday for the official launch of the completed UFB network for the city.
A collaboration between Northland company Northpower Fibre and the Crown Fibre Holdings, the launch saw Whangarei become the first city in the country - ahead of even the likes of Auckland and two months ahead of schedule - to be fully UFB capable.
Mr Key said the launch put Whangarei ahead of the rest of the country, making it far easier to live, learn and do business in the city.
He said New Zealand always suffered the tyranny of distance, but UFB connected the country to the rest of the world in real time.
"The whole world is tied up to UFB," Mr Key said.
He said practical applications of UFB included being able to download a movie from the internet in seconds rather than minutes: "and hopefully legally."
Ms Adams said it was great to be at Manaia View - the place where the UFB initiative first kicked off in December 2010 - to celebrate the completion of the project that will bring many benefits to the Whangarei community.
"I want to congratulate Northpower for completing the roll out of UFB in Whangarei. As the first fully-fibred city in New Zealand, Whangarei is in the enviable position of getting a head start on the rest of the country," she said.
"Thanks to this Government initiative, thousands of people in the Whangarei community now have access to fibre, including 1700 businesses, 200 healthcare providers, 26 schools and two hospitals ... schools now have access to the latest technology and students are able to take part in virtual classrooms and courses that might not be available at their own school.
"Teachers at Manaia View School say learning over UFB has also improved numeracy and literacy and greatly increased student engagement. Students are even coming to school early to use the UFB network. The Whangarei economy will have greater opportunities to become a hub of innovation. "In particular, fibre-enabled applications and services, such as cloud computing and teleconferencing facilities, will make it easier for Whangarei companies to do business with the rest of the world."
Northpower Fibre CEO Darren Mason said orders for Northpower Fibre's Ultra-Fast Broadband (UFB) network have doubled since March, and total connections are now almost 1600 - out of a possible 19,000 plus - before Northpower Fibre promotes the Whangarei network to the full.
"We are delighted to deliver UFB to Whangarei ahead of time and on budget," Mr Mason said.
"It's great to see the orders flooding in, especially now that retail service providers (local and national players) have begun actively offering services over our network. With the support of the Whangarei community we look forward to moving into the next phase of the project, marketing and promoting UFB."
Northpower Fibre is the only Local Fibre Company building to a single city - providing a unique opportunity for collaboration. Partnerships with the Whangarei District Council, Northland Inc, Manaia View School, Channel North and Whangarei Youth Space have been central to generating interest in the new technology, Mr Mason said.
Also yesterday, Ms Adams opened New Zealand's first fast-charge station for electric vehicles in Whangarei.
The station - operated by Northpower in Alexander St - will be free to use, with the fast charger capable of providing 80 per cent charge capacity within 30 minutes.