the government have thought long and hard about efficient spectrum sales processes, but too little about the efficient and flexible use of spectrum
The government has a goal to grow the New Zealand economy to “deliver greater prosperity, security and opportunities for all New Zealanders”.  A key dependency of that goal is that we be well connected, which in turn depends on our access to the latest telecom technologies, including broadband.

When completed, the Ultra Fast Broadband initiative will satisfy that dependency in urban areas.

In rural areas, that dependency will be met for many, by radio-based broadband systems provided under the telco-subsidised Rural Broadband Initiative.  An effective radio spectrum management regime is therefore critical for rural people.

The government have initiated a review of radio spectrum management with the publication of its “Radio Spectrum Five Year Outlook” discussion document, and have invited public submissions on it.  The Rural Connect submission can be viewed at www.ruralconnect.org.nz.

EM Spectrum PropertiesThe radio spectrum is a finite resource that the Crown manages on behalf of all New Zealanders.   Responsibility for radio spectrum management sits with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. The Ministry’s role in allocating spectrum is to “enable and facilitate business use, and to support the public policy outcomes sought by government.”

The government acknowledges that it’s immediate role in encouraging radio’s contribution to economic growth is through allocating radio spectrum bands to particular uses (e.g. mobile, fixed, broadcasting).

Whilst these are all fine words indeed, the government is not walking it’s talk.  This is evident in the policy differences between its urban (fibre) and rural (wireless) broadband programs, including issues such as speed, quality of service, pricing and availability.

For rural people, the difference between the talk and the walk are evident in the radio spectrum management aspects also.

For example, the government has previously agreed that following the switchover to digital TV, the 700MHz digital dividend spectrum will be primarily allocated to new mobile broadband services.

That is, it will go to mobile phone operators for use by mobile users.  This despite existing mobile allocations being less than 50% utilised and the allocated spectrum being around the same level that Australia forecasts it needs in 2014.  Mobile operators simply do not need the 700MHz spectrum.

The economic opportunity from high speed broadband is expected to be greater for rural people, than that for mobile users.  But this difference appears not to be a consideration as to whether the digital dividend band will be allocated to fixed rural or mobile broadband users.

It is clear that the government have thought long and hard about efficient spectrum sales processes, but too little about the efficient and flexible use of spectrum.  It is not an efficient use of spectrum to have more than 50% of it sitting allocated but unused.  And it is not used flexibly when it is allocated to a national operator and therefore, not available for rural pockets around the country.

To ensure efficiency and flexibility, the Crown must retain administrative allocation of the 700MHz band and not sell it to the telco with the deepest pockets.

The World Bank has promoted policies that foster infrastructure and spectrum sharing and whilst these aspects are mentioned in the report, government decisions regarding the digital dividend spectrum already pre-empt such things.

The means to achieve such policies is through a managed shared-use allocation regime that is operated by a Crown Fibre Holdings type organisation. There is so much allocated but unused spectrum that the mobile operators cannot be relied upon to economically and efficiently use allocated spectrum.