Government coalition partners National and the Maori Party remain divided over spectrum issues, just as the analogue switchoff is about to begin in the first regions – Hawkes Bay and West Coast – on September 30.
The analogue switch off will clear the 700MHz spectrum, which is valuable for telecommunication companies wanting to roll out the next generation of mobile services commonly referred to as 4G.
The spectrum is expected to be ready for use in December 2013, with an allocation process scheduled for early next year.
As part of the confidence and supply agreement between National and the Maori Party the issue of spectrum allocation was to have been resolved by May this year.
But Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples has emailed Computerworld a statement saying his party disagrees with the National party over Treaty of Waitangi claims on the spectrum.
“The Maori Party and the National Party have different views on spectrum claims, and we have been working hard to reconcile our differences,” Sharples says.
“The Maori Party believes that the ability to communicate, create community and protect tikanga and te reo Maori in a digital world is fundamental to the exercise of rangatiratanga and the right of natural development.”
“That argument was advanced in the Maori language and broadcasting cases; on which the Tribunal’s findings were accepted by the Crown. In a digital age, Maori require access to spectrum suitable for digital communications. Convergence of digital technologies and the emergence of social media have validated that argument; and highlighted the fallacy of the Crown treating broadcasting spectrum differently from higher frequencies.”
ICT Minister Amy Adams told Computerworld that the National party does not consider spectrum to be a taonga.
The last major spectrum allocation took place during 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.
However Sharples hasn’t endorsed a similar solution for the 700MHz spectrum.
“The Labour government’s settlement, establishing the Huarahi Tika Trust, did not address the Treaty questions. The Trust’s role in building a third cellphone network has, however, proved the benefits to Aotearoa as a whole of Maori participation in the ICT industry,” Sharples says.
“Unless there is a principled Treaty-based agreement between the Crown and Maori claimants, disputes will arise every time an auction of spectrum is proposed. That is why we have worked so hard for a resolution.”
If an agreement between National and the Maori party is reached, Sharples says it is not the role of the Maori Party to decide who in Maoridom should benefit.
“The question of who in Maoridom should benefit from allocation of spectrum or manage the spectrum on behalf of Maori is a different question – one that is for the Treaty partners to decide. The Maori Party’s views are simply the views of a political party – the significant negotiations are between the Crown and claimants to the spectrum.”