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Something goes right for govt on broadband policy

Wednesday 18th September 2013

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Embattled Communications Minister Amy Adams has caught a small break in the form of the rejection by the Waitangi Tribunal of an attempt to have the government's 4G mobile broadband spectrum auction reviewed.

She welcomed the Tribunal's decision not to grant an urgent hearing of the WAI2224 claim regarding Māori interests in the 700 MHz band of radio spectrum.

"The Tribunal decision notes that the Crown has already had the benefit of the Tribunal's advice on earlier, similar claims in making its decision regarding the allocation of spectrum," said Adams in a statement.

An auction of 700 Megahertz band spectrum is due next month and is a vital element in the government's pursuit of high-speed, mobile broadband access, especially in rural areas. The frequencies have been used until now for analogue television broadcasting.

The government has spent $157 million to switch TV to digital broadcasting nationwide, with the last parts of the country now facing switchover ahead of the reallocation of 700MHz spectrum to mobile operators.

Telecom, Vodafone and 2degrees and other potential mobile data service providers are all expected to participate in the auction, which carries a $198 million reserve price.

Adams is facing a raft of problems with attacks on the government's intervention to make subsidised, fibre-based broadband services attractive, made more difficult by Prime Minister John Key's claim on a television breakfast programme that Chorus could "go broke" if the intervention fails.

She also faces the loss of the government's two support parties in Parliament, United Future and the Maori Party, for fundamental reforms to the principles of the Resource Management Act.

A green light from the Waitangi Tribunal to revive a dormant claim on spectrum would have been another spanner in the works.

"The Government has a number of initiatives underway to ensure Māori have access to the benefits of digital technology," Adams said.

This includes "investigation" of a $30 million ICT development fund, focused on helping "Maori leverage the potential benefits from new technologies, and promote and support the language and culture in a digital world."

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