Vodafone chief advocates 4G cash for Maori ICT projects

19 Jul 2011

According to the Dominion Post, Vodafone New Zealand chief executive Russell Stanners has suggested that Maori ICT projects should get a cut of the proceeds from the sale of radio spectrum freed up by the closure of analogue television in 2013. The government is set to auction the rights to the spectrum, which could support as many as three Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks, with communications minister Steven Joyce previously indicating that he expects the auction to generate around NZD120 million (USD101.3 million).

TeleGeography notes that, in early 2001 the Hautaki Trust (part of the Maori Spectrum Trust) was awarded both GSM and 3G frequencies at a discounted rate. It went on to form a partnership with South Africa-based mobile group Econet Wireless International under the name Econet Wireless New Zealand (EWNZ). After a convoluted gestation period, the renamed company eventually launched GSM services under the 2degrees banner in August 2009, with its 3G network following in July 2010. In 2010, the Hautaki Trust saw its stake reduced from 20% to 10%, as it could not raise the funds to maintain its 20% shareholding.

Rather than follow the same model, Stanners proposes that the government to plough the resultant funds into a project designed to support Maori involvement in information and communications technology (ICT). Stanners indicated that now that the Maori (via Hautaki) were aligned with 2degrees, allocating some of the 4G auction proceeds to Maori would be fairer than setting aside a portion of the spectrum. The Vodafone CEO commented: ‘Unlike previously, where there was a Maori interest but no industry player associated with them, now there is, so there is a natural conflict there. You would be favouring one operator versus another and would distort a process that needs to be fair and equitable. In a funny way, Maoridom might be more interested in getting some ‘value’ that is not tied up with the success of an entity that they may end up having only a small shareholding in’. It is believed that the proposal has not been ruled out by Maori representatives at this stage.