The New Zealand government’s plan to auction Long Term Evolution (LTE)-suitable 700MHz spectrum later this year has been thrown into doubt after Maori claimants to certain spectrum rights unexpectedly reactivated a previously dormant request. The Waitangi Tribunal’s chief judge Wilson Isaac yesterday issued a direction for an urgent remedies hearing, after receiving an application on 4 July, and parties now have until the end of this month to file affidavits.
As things stand, the government intends to make NZD30 million (USD23.6 million) available in funding to develop Maori capacity in ICT, rather than echoing its 1999 approach towards the distribution of 3G spectrum rights. On that occasion the government made NZD5 million available to allow Maori to bid in the 3G spectrum option, with Maori-backed interests going on to pay a total of NZD14 million for 3G spectrum rights that eventually underpinned the creation of third mobile operator 2degrees. Scoop.co.nz quotes telecoms minister Amy Adams as saying: ‘We have never accepted that spectrum is a taonga [cultural treasure], but that the language is. We don’t therefore accept that there’s an automatic claim to spectrum’.
According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, Maori investment group the Hautaki Trust, which originally brought government-discounted frequencies to the company as part of the Maori Spectrum Trust, held 10.17% of 2degrees’ shares as of end-March 2013. Around 4.70% of this is a direct holding, while the remainder is accounted for by the trust’s ‘custodial services’ on behalf of other Maori groups. In February 2013 the Hautaki Trust revealed that it was looking for new Maori investors to acquire some of the custodial shares.