Sutherland – Sutherland was introduced to high speed internet for the first time after a community development centre was officially opened in the town. The centre, which was sponsored by the National Research Foundation (NRF), the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) and the department of science and technology, with 26 Dell computers, which will run at a high speed of 1Gbps.The centre originally opened its doors in March 2012 and the community utilised the facility since then. The centre was however officially opened on Thursday in the presence of board members of the NRF.The aim of the centre is to advance computer literacy in the town, provide a play and learning facility to small children and easy internet access for the Sutherland. According to Anthony Mietas, Sutherland Manager of the Salt Collateral Benefits Programme, the town is home to approximately 5 000 people.OpportunityMietas said the first thing they showed the community at the centre was how to use the social network Facebook. They also created a Facebook-page for Sutherland which already has 300 members.Students now have the opportunity to do research online, something they couldn’t do before. Hamish Whittal, IT manager at the community centre, said with the help of the South African Astronomical Observatory's Information Technology team, it took them approximately three months to set-up the computers and the link-up of the Community Development Centre to Observatory in Cape Town.Whittal explained the SAAO is connected to the South African Research Network (SANReN).“This is a fibre installed by SANReN from Sutherland to a point of presence at the centre for high performance computing (CHPC) in Rosebank, Cape Town.“This is a purpose built fibre installed for the transmission of Salt and other data from the plateau in Sutherland to our data centre in Cape Town and ultimately to scientists all over the world. We've tapped off this high speed, 1Gbps link to provide bandwidth for the Sutherland community centre,” Whittal told News24.Whittal said they build a tower on the hill overlooking Sutherland where they installed a wireless radio link.Solar powered“The antenna is a high-powered 5GHz antenna that provides a point-to-point link between the tower in town and our data centre on the plateau. We had to build the tower because there was no line of sight without it.“Once the signal reaches the tower from the Sutherland plateau, it's re-routed via a second wireless radio link to the community centre. So it's a double-hop from the data centre on the plateau to the community centre.“From the antenna on the top of the community centre building, we route that via a normal ethernet cable into a switch into the community centre and to all the computers.”Whittal said the wireless kit on the tower is all solar powered since the municipality could not give them dedicated power to the site.“Our electrical technical guys specified the system and got the solar panels. They used batteries so that it would run during overcast days too. We monitor all the equipment from our Cape Town office to ensure that if the solar power levels drop too much, we can send someone out to the tower with a generator to boost the power and keep the community centre and others online.”The internet currently runs at 54mbps or about half of the speed of a "normal" ethernet connection on your desk.According to Whittal, the first phase was to get the community centre connected. The second phase will be to negotiate so that the two schools in Sutherland, Roggeveld Intermediary School and Sutherland High School, will also have internet. They will then hopefully also provide internet for the library and the tourism centre.Social challengesMietas said workshops will be conducted at the centre and it will also be used to teach life-skills programmes to address some of the social challenges that the community faces.An astronomy workshop will be held in Sutherland in December where young scientists will use the centre to do real astronomy work and data reduction.“The centre also has study cubicles where learners and students can study, especially if they do not have the facilities at home. The centre will be a safe place for our children, where they can get mentorship, guidance and assistance to help with their education,” said Mietas.He said the centre is a place where the community can grow, develop and experience before they go out to the world. – Follow Chantelle on Twitter.