Professor Howard Frederick has resigned from the Maori Information Technology and Telecommunications Council, calling Maori claimants' decision to take out an injunction stopping the auction of radio spectrum “a disaster” for New Zealand’s emerging knowledge economy.
“In essence, you are blocking an economic and technological advance that would have benefited Maori in greater proportion than Pakeha,” Frederick says in a letter to Whatarangi Winiata and Graham Everton, representatives of the Maori claimants to the spectrum.
New Zealand, which stood the chance of being the second nation after Finland to implement 3G mobile Internet technology, will miss a significant window of opportunity in implementation as a result of the delay, he says.
Everton counters that 3G use of the spectrum will not become practical and commercially viable for about three years. Handsets and other hardware to use the spectrum will not be available in the short term.
“So we’re not losing anything” by the delay, he says.
More basic second-generation technology “we can do now” without using the bands up for auction, Everton says.
Frederick’s reaction is to point to “half-a-dozen Maori initiatives in applying WAP [Wireless Application Protocol] which are ready to go right now”.
He acknowledges that these projects will, in the short-term, only be able to use “Generation 2.5”, capable of transmitting text and small images to mobile phones over the Internet.
“That equipment is in the channel now”, and vendors see availability by March next year.
But full 3G capability is only 12 to18 months away, he says, and it could take almost that long for the application for an injunction to drag its way through the High Court and up to the Privy Council for a final ruling.
“We are not delaying the auction; the Crown is,” says Everton.
Consultation with Maori was supposed to be an element of the process of assigning spectrum and that has not happened to an adequate extent. "They’ve not done a good enough job.”
On the contrary, “there has been a wealth of consultation”, Frederick says.
This culminated in the Crown’s commitment to make one of the four bands available exclusively to Maori bids, at 95% of the average of the winning bids for the other three.
Maori Council executive chairman Maanu Paul suggests that a failure to utilise the 2GHz spectrum will not be a serious disadvantage, since other spectrum bands will become available.