We need to be clear: the 700MHz band is not “essential” for building 4G mobile networks anywhere.
The government has confirmed its long-held intention to auction the 700MHz “digital dividend” spectrum to a duopoly plus one of mobile telcos. CIT Minister Amy Adams announced last Thursday that the auction will be held in the third quarter of this year.

The digital dividend spectrum becomes available following the switch off of analogue television at the end of this year.

The decision, whilst fully expected, will come to be a tragedy for rural New Zealand people and businesses. It shows either a complete lack of innovative thinking to solve a pressing problem, or a complete acquiescence to the needs of one or more major mobile telcos ahead of the needs of rural New Zealand.

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Telecom Chief Executive Simon Moutter has said that the 700MHz spectrum would be essential for building 4G mobile networks outside of densely-populated urban centres.

nz radio spectrumWe need to be clear: the 700MHz band is not “essential” for building 4G mobile networks anywhere.

The 700MHz band is certainly desirable from the network builders’ perspective. But that is for economic reasons. Telecom and Vodafone could, today, start to roll out 4G services in rural areas using their existing under-utilised spectrum allocations. But that would cost them a lot more capital – the 700MHz band requires fewer wireless access points for the same coverage as higher bands which means fewer towers, transmitters, antenna and backhaul connections.

There is a more imaginative way forward to ensure that rural people and businesses get something approaching the ultra fast broadband that urban people are coming to take for granted.

That is to put the 700MHz band in to a Managed Spectrum Park, available to anyone with the nous and a market. That would enable competition at the service level rather than the infrastructure level. It would also ensure that spectrum is not hogged for anti-competition reasons and that rural fixed broadband users will get a quality of service unaffected by demand from a burgeoning number of mobile users.

But well done to Amy Adams for resisting the Maori spectrum claim. The shame is that Maori will get more dollars ($30M!!!) and rural will likely get no improvement on a CIR of 45Kbps, 100ms+ latency and low data caps with excessive overage charges.

In what I can only take as a sop to Maori claims to ownership of the radio spectrum, the Government is investigating the establishment of a $30 million ICT development fund for Maori.

Actually, it is not a sop at all.  A sop in this context is “of no great value”.  This is $30 million!  A significant amount that is on top of other government handouts to Maori that as Adams says would be ”recognition that the Government has a role to protect Maori language and culture as treaty partners”.  Just how much needs to be paid to cover that role?

To put the $30 million in to perspective, it equates to a per Maori amount that is greater than the per person amount the government has contributed to rural broadband.

Whilst the government apparently disagree, it is clear to Rural Connect that the radio spectrum is a taonga to Maori.  But that does not necessarily meant that they own the resource.  As argued in a recent series on the Wireless Commons, radio spectrum is a taonga to non-Maori to no less an extent than it is to Maori.  As a part of the Commons, it would not be sold in to private ownership for private profit as the government have done.