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Faafoi seeks enduring iwi framework from 5G spectrum talks

Thursday 27th June 2019

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Communications Minister Kris Faafoi wants a framework for iwi radio spectrum allocations that will endure beyond the current discussions over 5G technology. 

The minister said he's had positive conversations over Treaty of Waitangi issues and doesn't think they will slow the spectrum allocation process. The government is working towards holding the first auction of 3.5 gigahertz band spectrum next year, with the national rights available for use in November 2022. 

Iwi are "of the mind that previous engagement with other spectrum allocations have been sub-optimal," Faafoi told Parliament's economic development, science and innovation select committee today. 

"I'm trying to investigate ways we can put a framework around these types of issues so we don't have to reinvent the wheel every time we come to spectrum allocation." 

Spark New Zealand chief executive Simon Moutter has been a noisy advocate for a faster release of 5G spectrum in an effort to have a network up and running by July next year. The country's biggest telco wants to showcase the technology, supporting Emirates Team New Zealand's defence of the America's Cup in 2021. 

The New Zealand Maori Council has urged a slower response, given iwi missed out on a special allocation in the 4G auction in 2013 and instead received a $30 million development fund to help Maori benefit from new technology.

Maori were granted the right to buy 3G spectrum at a discounted price in 2000, which effectively paved the way for Two Degrees Mobile to enter the local mobile market. The Hautaki Trust last year transferred its stake in the country's third-placed mobile carrier to the company's majority shareholder, Trilogy International, which bundled 2Degrees into a larger telecommunications group and listed that entity on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Faafoi said he's had the first meeting with iwi stakeholders, and is "working through what both sides might see as not just reasonable, but beneficial." 

The government is running a two-track process, which includes early access in an effort to make sure there will be spectrum available for the America's Cup, and is engaging on both those issues.

"Acknowledging that Simon Moutter's last day is tomorrow, in terms of the early access he wanted it months ago," Faafoi said. "So there's obviously an issue that Spark wanted to get it as soon as possible, and we just have to make sure we can do it in a meaningful and reasonable way.

"Obviously there's some haste because the timeframe of the America's Cup isn't changing."

Faafoi said he hoped to see as much collaboration across industry as possible in what will be a dense roll-out of small cell-sites. Ultimately that will be a commercial decision for the operators. 

The government has been engaging with Spark over the telco's coverage of the Rugby World Cup this year, and Faafoi said the company has been working with wireless internet service providers to make sure rural communities were happy.

The most recent discussions have been on educating people on how to link their devices to televisions, and engaging with the Hospitality Association and Clubs New Zealand to ensure pubs and clubs know how to access the rugby, he said. 

"While we're not part of the operation, we've obviously got an interest making sure that New Zealanders are happy when they want to watch the world cup," he said.

Faafoi said the government is also considering the next step for supporting rural broadband once the existing initiatives are completed and about 99.8 percent of the population have access to fast internet speeds.

He's tasked officials to look at the profiles of households and businesses that are outside the current footprint and is weighing up whether to improve capacity in areas that are already covered or to invest in developing connectivity for those which don't have any. 

(BusinessDesk)

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