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Maori claim could delay 4G rollout

Published: 7:25PM Monday February 04, 2013 Source: ONE News

The launch of a new generation of super-fast mobile technology known as 4G could be slowed down by a Maori claim over rights to radio frequencies.

Cabinet is expected to consider a compensation package for Maori next week as a Waitangi Tribunal claim looms.

The three major telecommunications companies are eager to get their hands on the spectrum so they can start offering faster 4G services, but Maori say they are being unfairly left out.

For telcos like Vodafone 4G is the next big thing, allowing cellphone data and broadband speeds to double, or in some cases quadruple.

Vodafone Corporate Affairs general manager Tom Chignell said New Zealand needs to be offering 4G to be competitive.

"We've seen it in Germany, in Italy, we're now also seeing it in South Africa, so New Zealand needs to be part of that, needs to be with the pack not following the pack," he said.

The Government is aiming to auction off the old analogue television spectrum to Vodafone, Telecom and 2 Degrees in the middle of the year so 4G can launch by 2014.

But a claim that Maori should also get a slice of the airwaves, now before the Waitangi Tribunal, could cause delays.

Te Huarahi Tika trustee Antony Royal said the issue was not about the spectrum, but about property rights.

"It's about the Crown assuming that it owns property rights that it can then go on and resell," he said.

Minister for Communications and Information Technology Amy Adams said the Crown has always accepted that water is a taonga and that Maori have rights and interests in water.

"In respect of course to spectrum it's been the view of successive governments that it isn't a taonga."

This view is not shared by the Waitangi Tribunal, which found Maori had ownership rights during the last spectrum sell-off in 1999.

That ruling was not accepted by the Government, however a Maori trust was given $5 million to buy part of what became the 3G network at a discounted rate.

"Maori had to buy that spectrum but as a result of that look what we've got today," Royal said.

"We've got 2 Degrees mobile, we've brought competition to the market place."

But Chignell said slicing 4G four ways rather than three to include Maori interests would hurt customers.

"That will just reduce the speeds that are available to customers ... so it would be a shame if that happened," he said.