Maori Party flexes muscle to get regulatory holiday biffed

MP Rahui Katene says party negotiated hard to get changes to Telco Bill

The government back down over the regulatory forbearance period for the Ultra Fast Broadband was a result of hard negotiation by the Maori Party.

MP for Te Tai Tonga Rahui Katene, who represents the Maori Party on the finance and select committee, says they were in negotiations with ICT Minister Steven Joyce for two weeks prior to today’s announcement.

“We certainly negotiated hard with him and helped bring to his attention that it wasn’t a popular move (the regulatory forbearance period) and that it actually wasn’t the best way to deal with the issues of pricing,” she says.

The regulatory forbearance period proposed under the Telecommunications Amendment Act would have excluded Commerce Commission oversight into wholesale pricing on the UFB until 2020. It has been replaced by “contractual mechanisms”.

"In my former life I was a laywer, the Commerce Commission is there to protect consumers and that’s what my concerns were."

She says the Maori Party didn’t issue a minority view when the select committee reported back on Monday recommending the regulatory forbearance period remain because the negotiations were ongoing. Act, Labour and the Greens issued minority reports opposing the forbearance period.

So, if the government had not backed down and ditched the forbearance period, would Maori have voted against the bill - in other words would the government’s majority in Parliament have been at risk?

“It never actually needed to come down to that,” Katene told Computerworld. “We hadn’t gone that far, but yes we certainly did negotiate hard.”

Kudos to TelstraClear

Katene says she has been “bombarded” by lobbying from the industry in relation to the Telecommunications Amendment Bill. When asked what she thought about TelstraClear’s advertising campaign, Katene says she thinks it was effective.

“I thought they were good adverts, I really thought they made good points of the issues and the Minister either saw them or either had his attention brought to them and they did have an effect, but I can’t talk for him.”

Maori now at the top table

Katene says pushing for change in the Telco Bill, and the recent formation of Nga Pu Waea, the Maori working group set up to work with the government, Vodafone and Telecom on the Rural Broadband Initiative, show Maori have finally got a voice in telecommunications.

“Now it really is time for people to notice that Maori are part of the industry,” she says. “We also have a very strong presence as consumers and our needs are often different to anyone else’s needs so it’s great that we’ve finally got that voice, that perspective at the top table.”

Katene would like to see Nga Pu Waea’s mandate extend to working with Crown Fibre Holdings on the UFB.

Spectrum allocation

Once the UFB is decided, the next major government decision is the allocation of the spectrum that will become available when analogue television is switched off in 2013. This spectrum is considered ideal for rolling out LTE or 4G mobile networks.

Katene expects Maori to have a say in how that spectrum is allocated. “It would be nice not to have to do it through litigation to be taken seriously in these areas and for government and industry to see that Maori do need to have a voice, and a presence.”

Antony Royal, a member of Nga Pu Waea and a prominent spokesperson for Maori on issues relating to telecommunications, says spectrum “has been a topic with the Crown for many decades.”

“We’re not necessarily sure the auction process will actually deliver the best outcomes. In many countries, they’ve moved away from an auction process,” he says.

“The second thing is that the Crown and Maori need to agree upon those resources. They haven’t had that discussion with Maori about those property rights and those are discussions that need to occur. Maori believe that they ought to have access to the spectrum, that there shouldn’t be a price, because whatever Maori do with that spectrum will end up being for the good of New Zealand.”

He points out that Maori have already shown good use of its spectrum allocation, as via the Hautaki Trust, it has a shareholding in 2degrees. He says that through financial arrangements, which he says are commercially sensitive, the Trust has been able to stabilise its shareholding at around 10 percent.

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Tags maori partyTelecommunications Amendment BillRahui Katene

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