Maori interests are divided over Treaty of Waitangi claims on radio spectrum which is vital for the roll out of the next generation in mobile telecommunications.
A decision is due before Cabinet on how to handle a treaty claim on the 700MHz spectrum that will be available when the digital switchover is completed at the end of the year.
The last major spectrum allocation took place under the previous Labour government, and it allocated a portion to Te Huarahi Tika Trust, which, in the form of the Hautaki Trust, became a shareholder in 2degrees.
Treaty claimant Graeme Everton is warning that the same solution might be applied again.
"Being a person who opposed the unilateral deal imposed on Maori by the Crown at the time, it is not hard for me to see and become seriously concerned that the poorly conceived and hastily implemented 'compromise deal' would 14 years later not only fail to deliver little in the way of benefits, let alone advance the participation of Maori in the ICT industry," he writes in a discussion paper emailed to Computerworld.
Hautaki selling shares
Everton is concerned about recent moves by Hautaki to sell some of its equity in 2degrees. Hautaki has only managed to retain a 10.18 percent shareholding in the telco with the help of 2degrees majority shareholder Trilogy International, which provided the trust with a $2.6 million loan to maintain its stake.
Antony Royal, a trustee of both trusts and a board member of 2degrees, is promoting the sell-down of the Hautaki Trust's shares to other Maori groups.
"We've been acquiring shares on behalf of Maori and 2degrees for some time now on the basis that we're holding onto them until Maori organisations are ready and want to take up the opportunity to invest in 2degrees. So we think the timing is right."
Current Maori investors in 2degrees are Tuaropaki Communications, Wairarapa Moana and Hautaki.
A joint statement issued by Te Huarahi Tika Trust and Hautaki Trust promoting the investment notes that 2degrees "is earning the cash flow needed to cover operating costs."
"Healthy leverage in business plan provides for future investment in an industry requiring on-going capital injection to keep up with technological advance. Ms [Mavis] Mullins [Hautaki Limited chair] affirmed that the company is on track to meet profitability targets within the 12 months," the statement says.
Royal says that Maori organisations looking to invest will need to make an assessment about whether 2degrees - which posted a loss of $92.6 million for the 2011 -- will need ongoing funding to improve its market share.
This point is not lost on Everton, who writes: "No doubt 2degrees will require even more investment in 2013, with the prospect of having to purchase new spectrum and equipment to build out the next generation of mobile networks to remain a competitive player in the mobile space."
New Te Huarahi Tiki Trustees
This month Te Huarahi Tiki Trust will appoint new trustees, some of whom have a significant public profile, they include Ian Taylor, Animation Research Limited; Mereana Selby, Te Wananga o Raukawa; John Tamihere, Te Whanau o Waipareira; Toa Greening, IT engineering specialist based in Manukau and Karaitiana Taiuru, New Zealand Maori Internet Society
They will join Daphne Luke [Hautaki chair], Royal and Bill Osborne the current directors.
"These new appointments will strengthen the Trust's capacity to advance the interests of Mori in telecommunications including the Trust's involvement as a member of the Spectrum Claimant Coalition," the Trusts' joint statement says.
The coalition comprises of Te Huarahi Tiki Trust, Te Putahi Paoho, Nga Kaiwhakapumau, Graeme Everton and the New Zealand Maori Council, which has "engage in discussion with the Crown through ICT Minister Amy Adams and Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples for the past two years," the Trusts' statement says.
"The Coalition prepared a major paper for the Nation in November to be considered by Cabinet. Subsequently, Minister Adams provided Cabinet with her advice. We have yet to receive Cabinet's response to our statement of position.
"A cabinet paper prepared by Minister Adams' office is to be considered by Cabinet at a future date. The auction of the 700MHz band of spectrum is looming, the Coalition was mandated by Maori at a national hui held in November to return to the Waitangi Tribunal for a decision. Te Huarahi Tika will be part of that effort."
Who will benefit?
Royal says who will benefit from a successful claim on spectrum is a matter for Maori to discuss. "It certainly makes sense for Maori to have a comprehensive, single organisation to manage and to operate spectrum for Maori, but that's a conversation that Maori need to have. Certainly Te Huarahi Tika Trust has a mandate from the Maori Electoral College."
There does appear to be some consensus that the Crown should settle the claim for all spectrum -- and not just when parts of it become available such as 700MHz. However, this could mean that the government would have to recognise spectrum as taonga, which ICT Minister Amy Adams has to date refused to do.
"I think it's fair to say that the government's view around spectrum and the Maori viewpoint potentially is still at odds," says Royal.
*This article has been added to since it was first published in the Computerworld print edition on February 11, 2013.