Maori interests are lining up to play a more active role in telecommunications, as the release of spectrum necessary to build 4G mobile networks draws closer.
Torotoro Waea Partnership, a consortium of Iwi and other Maori entities, has joined with Opto Networks in a proposal to partner with government on the $300 million Rural Broadband Initiative. The bid includes a proposal to build “a single set of independent 3G/4G towers” that are made available to all mobile providers.
Torotoro Waea spokesperson Antony Royal says although the RBI proposal and 4G spectrum are separate issues, there is a link.
“It is also about spectrum sharing, because we believe that the spectrum should not be chopped up into small bits,” he says,
The spectrum becomes available after November 2013, when analogue television is switched off.
“That [spectrum] is a separate issue from the proposal we have put to government,” he says. “[But] there is a natural link, at some point with talks about what is the best way to manage the spectrum the government is about to release.”
Royal says while he is indirectly involved in discussions, the Maori bid for spectrum rights is being led by the New Zealand Maori Council. He also says the Maori Party are aware of both the spectrum issue and the RBI bid.
“There is an obvious Maori interest in spectrum,” Royal says. “Our argument is that we have had an interest in spectrum for hundreds of years, but we have been having a discussion with the Crown for over a decade.”
The Torotoro Waea bid proposes to build a broadband network throughout rural New Zealand that would pass 1000 marae.
Royal says that Opto Networks has expertise in rolling out fixed line infrastructure (its CEO Roger De Salis is a founder of FX Networks) and Maori interests have been closely aligned with the 2degrees network, but the mobile telco is not part of the bid.
“Even though we have a strong relationship with 2degrees we’re not suggesting 2degrees do it,” he says.
Royal won’t say how much the Torotoro Waea Partnership intends to spend on the RBI project, yet. “We don’t want people to be distracted with numbers just at the moment, we want people to understand what the nature of the proposal is,” he says.
He says if successful, the emphasis would be on providing cost-effective telecommunications services to rural households.
“We are expecting a return on investment but we are not expecting super profits. The network has to pay for itself, but our objective is to try and get as many people on the network using it as much as possible, he says.
“We also want to use this opportunity to try and find ways in which we can innovate. We are really keen on communities participating and helping build these networks as well so they own these networks within their local community.
“After all that is how our telecommunications infrastructure started. It started with communities getting together, building their own infrastructure and linking to one another. It wasn’t some large overseas organisation coming to build our infrastructure for us, our communities built them and we believe that they should have the same opportunity here.”
The $300 million RBI is funded in part by a $48 million taxpayer grant and the remainder is from an industry levy. It is administered by the Ministry of Economic Development and the goal is to provide fibre to 97 percent of rural schools and a minimum 5Mbit/s broadband service to 80 percent of rural households within six years.
The Ministry of Economic Development has received five proposals. To date the following bids have been made public:
Telecom and Vodafone
Kordia, FX Networks and Woosh (confirmed by Kordia November 18)
And a mystery fifth respondent that has yet to be revealed.