Govt blamed for any 4G delay

TOM PULLAR-STRECKER
Last updated 12:42 08/11/2012

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Emeritus professor Whatarangi Winiata says it will be the Government's fault if a revived Waitangi Tribunal claim for hundreds of millions of dollars of radio spectrum delays the arrival of 4G mobile technology in New Zealand.

Maori groups yesterday announced that they planned to reactivate a 2009 Waitangi Tribunal claim for a "fair share" of radio spectrum that will be freed up by next year's closure of analogue television.

Claimants, which include the Wellington Maori Language Commission, Nga Kaiwhakapumau i Te Reo, were likely to lodge an application for an "urgent hearing" with the tribunal in two to three weeks, Prof Winiata said.

The decision had been taken at a hui at Ngatokowaru Marae that was chaired by Prof Winiata and included attendees from the telecommunications, media, education and investment sectors.

Communications Minister Amy Adams said in August that the Government was on track to allocate the 700MHz spectrum by the end of March, through what is widely expected to be an auction. Vodafone, Telecom and 2degrees are all expected to bid.

Analysts have suggested the spectrum could fetch $400 million to $1 billion if it sells for the going rate established by similar "digital dividend" auctions overseas.

Adams has stuck to the line taken by previous National and Labour-led governments that radio spectrum is not "taonga" (treasure), despite an adverse tribunal ruling in 1999.

She responded neutrally to the revival of the Waitangi Tribunal claim, saying the claimants had previously indicated to her that they were likely to do so.

Vodafone New Zealand chief executive Russell Stanners warned last month that if the spectrum were not allocated by the end of April, that could delay the launch of large-scale 4G networks in New Zealand.

Telecom plans to trial a limited commercial service using higher- frequency spectrum this year.

Asked if there was potential for a "win-win" solution, Prof Winiata said he thought there was.

Maori had a high interest in making the very best use of spectrum for the nation, he said. "There is no conflict between the objectives of the Crown and Maori in that regard.

"We have put certain proposals to the Crown but it does rely on agreement the spectrum is a taonga. The Crown has got to get over itself . . . accept it does not have the final say and the Treaty guaranteed certain things.

If the spectrum claim resulted in a delay to 4G that would not be Maori's fault, he said. "That would be the Crown behaving in a way that is inconsistent with the Treaty."

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- The Dominion Post

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