Sunday, February 24, 2013
Mike Butler: Tangled Maori spectrum web
Look at the tangled web behind the government’s rejection of a claim by Maori for a share of the 700MHz spectrum, and the $30-million information and communications technology fund, offered to Maori only.(1) Why should ICT Minister Amy Adams offer a $30-million ''ICT development fund'' to Maori and not to everyone? The answer is that there is a well-developed Maori lobby for spectrum ownership, and an equally well-developed government counter-group made up of, let us say, policy entrepreneurs.
The low-frequency 700MHz spectrum, which is being made available by viewers being forced to switch from the old analogue to new digital “Freeview” TV, would be essential for building so-called 4G mobile networks outside of densely-populated urban centres. The 4G mobile networks would offer much mobile faster internet browsing than the 3G technology used today.
An auction of the 700MHz spectrum is expected to be held in October this year with Telecom, Vodafone, and 2 degrees among the main bidders.
The Adams apparent rebuff left some claimants are pondering whether they intend to revive a Waitangi Tribunal claim for the spectrum which would have the potential to further delay the spectrum sale.
Three groups lodged and then suspended the WAI 2224 claim for the spectrum in 2009. Support from the New Zealand Maori Council and the Maori Party, giving it leverage with coalition partner National, has created some traction for the widely ridiculed claim.
Earlier, the tribunal recommended, in 2000, that the range of all possible frequencies of electromagnetic radiation was a ''taonga”.
The Maori Spectrum Coalition said claimants would go back to the Waitangi Tribunal and the High Court now that their demand for a slice of New Zealand's ''digital dividend'' radio spectrum had been rebuffed.
The New Zealand Maori Internet Society said it would like to know more about the proposed fund before going down the treaty claim route. (2)
The Maori Spectrum Coalition's Waitangi Tribunal threat invokes the Maori Council’s only strategy, which is to get a sympathetic Waitangi Tribunal report, go to the High Court and/or Supreme Court to get an injunction to stop whatever it is they want stopped, and then get a financial benefit from the government in return for making this impediment go away.
A Maori Council bid to stop the part-privatisation of power generators until Maori rights to water are investigated is going down this road, and is currently awaiting a Supreme Court judgement.
The Maori Spectrum Coalition asserts the country had gained 2degrees, 21 iwi radio stations and Maori Television as a direct result of the involvement of Maori in spectrum management. This sugar coating diverts attention from the fact that spectrum owners were the only ones to gain financial benefit from those assets.
Labour held an airwaves auction in 2000, on which the 3G spectrum was reserved for the Hautaki Trust, which in turn did a deal with the US-controlled 2degrees (which controls that spectrum today) in return for a minority shareholding.
Former Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman said in 2011, without any evidence for his assertion, that making the digital dividend spectrum available for 4G networks would generate economic benefits worth between $1.1-billion and $2.4b-over 20 years.
An auction of the 4G spectrum in the United Kingdom over the past week was expected to raise £3.5-billion, but only brought a total of £2.34 billion – perhaps another bad omen for the New Zealand government’s much vaunted asset sales programme.
The politics around the air waves and telecommunications is complicated, has a long history, and is peppered with race-based deals.
Two years ago, the government needed Maori Party support to pass the Telecommunications Amendment Bill, which allowed the $1.35-billion ultra-fast broadband project and the $300-million rural broadband initiative to go ahead. The ACT Party vehemently opposed it on the grounds that politics were interfering with markets. (3)
At that time, an unknown group, Torotoro Waea, a consortium of 24 members including Kordia, Opto Networks, 2degrees, plus iwi groups, put in a bid for the $300-million rural broadband project. They were not successful. Torotoro Waea vanished and the government announced the formation of Nga Pu Waea to champion Maori rural broadband interests.
More specifically, Nga Pu Waea would advise on Maori interests and development opportunities in broadband and work to ensure marae, kohanga, kura, wananga, iwi runanga and Maori health and social service providers benefit from the rural broadband rollout.
Nga Pu Waea's seven members included Anthony Royal, a director of the Hautaki Trust, a minority shareholder in 2degrees (brought on board because it owned the 300G radio spectrum).
And look who has popped up in this latest airwave claim. Antony Royal of the Hautaki Trust is also a trustee of the Maori Radio Spectrum Trust, along with Piripi Walker, who is treasurer of the Wellington Maori language board, Nga Kaiwhakapumau. They said, predictably, that Maori (in other words, themselves) would rather have $30-million worth of spectrum than the fund.
Nga Pu Waea and the Hautaki Trust are government-created, a point much criticised by spectrum owner Rei Sciascia at the National Maori spectrum Hui in Otaki last October. Many of the well resourced government groups were there including Nga Pua Waea, the Hautaki Trust, Maori TV, Maori Radio, Te Huarahi Tika Trust, a spattering of tribal leaders, as well as the Digital Maori Forum.(4)
Sciascia questioned how government-created groups like Te Huarahi Tika Trust and Hautaki trust/Limited can fairly represent Maori when they have to answer to the Crown without transparently informing Maori or industry leaders of their decisions. He also questioned how representatives from Nga Pua Waea can be high on the table of influence when they too must report back to the government that resources them for government outcomes.
The spectrum claim is ridiculous but is progressing. The 3G spectrum went to the Hautaki Trust and now carries the 2degrees network. The 4G claim has been rebuffed but a $30-million fund is to be set up for Maori.
Forget the high-sounding rhetoric. There are a few operators in this game who invoke treaty rights and play off the parties in MMP politics to get a substantial business advantage.
1. No spectrum for Maori as govt sets timeframe for 4G auction, http://www.nbr.co.nz/article/no-spectrum-maori-govt-sets-date-4g-auction-ck-136254
2. Maori may split over radio spectrum, http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/business/8338171/Maori-unhappy-with-spectrum-claim-rejection
3. Nga Pu who? Maori group is govt’s secret Crown fibre weapon, http://www.nbr.co.nz/article/nga-pu-who-maori-group-govt%E2%80%99s-secret-crown-fibre-weapon-ck-p-92431
4. Seeing the future with past experiences, DigitalMaori, http://news.tangatawhenua.com/archives/20885
at 2:06 PM