What is required is a fresh approach to spectrum management… spectrum is part of The Commons and must be open-access rather than being commoditised for private profit.
Last week I introduced ‘The Commons’ as a potential means to address man-made problems like climate change, financial crises and high energy prices.

The Commons was originally about access to and use of the environment, including forests, the atmosphere, rivers, fisheries or grazing lands.  These were to be shared, used and enjoyed by all.

The opposite to The Commons is commodification, or turning things that are not usually regarded as goods, in to a commodity to be traded. This in turn leads to privatisation which can result in public benefits being turned in to private profits.

Our modern society adds cultural resources to The Commons.  Things like parks, education and health, as well as infrastructure such as electricity and water distribution systems.  These are all things that add to the common wealth of our people, to be enjoyed by all.

To this list I add the radio spectrum.  Open access to the radio spectrum is a solution to the looming rural broadband problem.

The so rapid development of broadband internet has put our society at a turning point.  We either choose to take all participants with us down that technology-driven road, or we choose to leave some on the wrong side of the digital divide.

The wrong-sided will be those rural users who cannot access the broadband speeds that urban users with fibre connections are coming to take for granted.

The high cost of laying fibre to rural communities, means that wireless networks, and in particular the 700MHz digital dividend spectrum, will come to influence the wellbeing and resilience of our rural communities.

So it is in this context that I read in the news this morning, that Maori may shortly find out whether they will get a share of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of radio spectrum freed up by the closure of analogue television.  This is the digital dividend spectrum.

Is there political resolve in the beehive?

Is there political resolve in the beehive?

The government, who are due to release their decision on the allocation of this spectrum this month, have long telegraphed the ideology that the spectrum will be sold to competing mobile telcos.  One of the issues holding up the much delayed decision, is Maori’s claim to spectrum before the Waitangi Tribunal.

Given the political imperatives around Waitangi Day, a politically pragmatic announcement in support of the Maori claim is probable.

Such an outcome will be a tragedy for those rural people who rely on wireless networks for their fast broadband services.

In this matter, Maori are clearly driven by economic imperatives, rather than ones of social value.  This is demonstrated by Maori spectrum claimant Graeme Everton’s threat that Maori could “…reactivate a Waitangi Tribunal claim for the spectrum at any time if they were not given an allocation.”  It is reinforced in Everton’s statement that, “If Maori were to get an allocation, we would be looking to place that in partnership with the telco that provided the best opportunity to Maori.”

So Maori would cede their “ownership” rights to radio spectrum, to the telco with the highest bid.  They offer no new ways to better manage the resource and thus are no different from the existing mobile telecos who have underutilised the resource for reasons of commercial self-interest.

What is required is a fresh approach to spectrum management.  One that is based on recognizing that spectrum is part of The Commons and must be open-access rather than being commoditised for private profit.

There is a means to achieve this objective.  All it needs is political resolve.