Govt confirms 4G auction time, excludes Maori from allocated pieces of spectrum pie

The much awaited auction of the 4G spectrum has been confirmed for the third quarter of this year by ICT Minister Amy Adams. In a move that's bound to create contention, the government says Maori will not be allocated a specific piece of the spectrum, which it says could be worth more than $2 billion over the next 20 years.

The 700 MHz (4G/LTE) radio band becomes available after the analog TV switch over is completed in December. Segments of the frequency will be put up for auction before then, with the aim to have rights-holders able to access the range by January 2014. The Minister's office says temporary licenses will be divvied out this year to allow companies time for testing.

However, Iwi will not be allocated spectrum as a Treaty of Waitangi consideration, and instead the Crown will investigate the creation of a $30 million fund to promote Maori ICT initiatives.

“The Government recognises the importance of Māori having opportunities to participate in the ICT sector, however, in keeping with the view of successive governments that spectrum is not a taonga, in our view it does not follow that Māori require further spectrum to be set aside in order to meet our shared objectives of the protection of language and culture,” says Adams.

This is a step-change from 2000, where the then Labour government gave the Maori Spectrum Trust a discounted allocation of the spectrum. This move eventuated in the founding of 2Degrees mobile, in which the Maori Spectrum Trust has a 10 percent stake today.

Graeme Everton, a representative of the coalition of Maori organisations putting forward a spectrum claim, says the government's decision will likely result in court action in front of the Waitangi Tribunal.

"This is not a good outcome for Maori. The Maori Council and the coalition has been left with no option but to fight the government in court," says Everton.

Everton says the initial 4G claim was halted in 2009 to negotiate with the government, but this latest decision shows bad faith on the part of the Crown.

"The Government has shown a tendency to over play its hand. We will take the lead taken by the Maori water rights claim, and show that the government over played its hand once again," says Everton.

The $30 million fund is not a fair trade off considering the billion dollar potential of the technology, he adds. 

"That is a one off sum that could fund maybe a dozen initiatives. Spectrum is ongoing, it's 20 years of revenue for the Maori community towards bridging the technology divide in the community," says Everton.

Earlier this month Telecom launched the second phase of its 4G trials, by bringing on board 100 testers. Telecom is using 1800 and 2600 MHz for its trial because of the uncertainty around the 700 MHz spectrum.