Government yet to determine Māori claim to mobile spectrum


The Government is yet to determine whether Māori should have rights to the mobile spectrum, as a 2009 claim has still not been formally considered. 

Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media Kris Faafoi announced on Thursday the Government was on track for a 5G launch in 2020, but is also concurrently working with Māori to address radio spectrum-related Treaty of Waitangi issues. 

"Until this work has been completed, we will not be able to provide details of the 3.5 GHz spectrum that will be available for auction," Mr Faafoi said. 

The minister was referring to a claim (WAI 2224) lodged in 2009 by Graeme Everton, over Māori rights to the spectrum - the radio waves that carry telecommunication signals. 

It was Mr Everton's mother, the late Rangiaho Everton, who in 1999 took a claim (WAI 776) to the Waitangi Tribunal on behalf of Māori arguing the Crown did not have the right to create property rights around the spectrum and should not assume ownership. 

The Waitangi Tribunal agreed in a majority decision that Māori had fair and equitable access to the spectrum. That led to discounted 3G spectrum for the pan-iwi Te Huarahi Tika Trust whose commercial arm, Hautaki Ltd, traded the spectrum for a stake in what became 2degrees. 

Graeme Everton.
Graeme Everton. Photo credit:

Clearly Māori did gain something from the WAI 776 Crown claim, including having a charitable trust set up -the Māori Spectrum Trust - to represent Maori interests and receive $5 million by way of a grant from the Crown.

But Mr Everton, a former Telecom radio spectrum technician, is seeking a "negotiated solution" before 5G spectrum is auctioned off. A bid for an urgent hearing for his WAI 2224 claim was made in 2013 and declined, a spokesperson for Mr Faafoi confirmed to Newshub. 

"These are not new claims but rather in WAI 776 the Waitangi Tribunal agreed, in a majority decision, that Māori had a right to fair and equitable access to radio spectrum," the spokesperson said. 

"Another claim - WAI 2224 - has been lodged with the Tribunal in 2009 but has yet to be formally considered."

Mr Everton has argued that "like land, spectrum was part of the Māori natural estate". Māori also recently laid claim to freshwater, with the Waitangi Tribunal and the Supreme Court both acknowledging it, but it has yet to be backed up by Government policy. 

Writing for The Spinoff, Mr Everton said the Crown "failed to deliver anything of substance". He said reading between the lines, "they didn't want to set a precedent that modern resources like spectrum could be owned by Māori". 

"I choose not to be involved in the trust set up by the Government, as I saw it as the Crown's way of undermining our claim."

He added: "The Crown needs to change its own dictatorial approach to settling this claim and instead share what is absolutely our entitlement," and the Government should allow Māori to partner in the "valuable resource". 

The entrepreneur believes Māori are under-represented in the telecommunications industry, and telecom operators like Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees are "failing to acknowledge that Maori have absolute rights in the spectrum".  

Hobson's Pledge, a lobby group formed to oppose alleged Māori favouritism, was scathing about Māori claims.

"Aside from the absurdity of a Treaty claim for an asset that no one had any knowledge of when the Treaty was signed, the spectrum claim is a reminder of the lasting impediment that decades of appeasement has imposed on getting anything done in New Zealand," it said in a newsletter sent to supporters on Monday.

The issue could be another obstacle for Spark, whose rejected plan to use Huawei equipment to build its 5G network sparked souring relations between New Zealand and China. The Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) in November warned it not to use Huawei's products over security concerns. 

Any delays to New Zealand's 5G rollout would put it well-behind Australia, where a 5G spectrum auction has already been completed. 

But Mr Faafoi seemed confident New Zealand is on track to deliver the technology on time: "We are on track and keeping pace with other countries: with the spectrum being progressively allocated, companies can start rolling out 5G from 2020."