The Spinoff published my article today. Next year it will be 20 years since the Waitangi Tribunal ruled in favour of Maori ownership of radio spectrum, Wai 776. Back then making a phone call was the primary use of a cellphone, 20 years on the next generation of mobile technology called 5G is coming and will bring significant changes and opportunities. Not only will we see faster speeds and greater bandwidth but it will be used to guide autonomous cars, connect billions of devices and sensors and of course still make a call but it will be a hologram call, kanohi ki te kanohi.
The Crown has acknowledged their will be Iwi interests to consider, and this is welcome news, but what has raised my interest is that our nations telcos have remained mute on acknowledging Maori prior interests in spectrum, instead telling the Government to hurry up and sell them the spectrum so they can get on and build their networks, with one even passionately defending an equipment suppler who is currently under international scrutiny for security issues. 20 years ago, actually even up to five years ago, the telcos pushed the idea that Maori deserved money but not spectrum. This can't happen again. 5G is a fundamental change to mobile technology and it will mark a whole new range of business opportunities that Maori must be at the front of. And we know what can happen if Maori have a stake in the game, you just need to look at the fishing industry to see how well it can turnout. We can create the opportunities for ourselves and we need to, especially in a world where technology industries are changing the nature of work,
I would hope our telcos have moved on and no longer see Maori ownership of resources like spectrum as detrimental but as a great sign that we are maturing as a country. Our past is littered with resource confiscations but our future can be different if our corporates, the telcos, are at the table acknowledging Maori rights and contributing to solutions that work more broadly rather than an elite few.
The Future of Māori Spectrum
The Future of Māori Spectrum
Next year will mark 20 years since my mother, Rangiaho Everton, took the Crown to the Waitangi Tribunal over its refusal to recognise Māori ownership of radio spectrum, aka 4G currently, which is the life blood of the mobile industry. It’s true back in 1999 when we stood before the Tribunal to tell them how important the radio spectrum would be for Māori, Google was not even a year old, smart phones hadn’t been invented, and Steve Jobs was just a wee Apple compared to Microsoft’s Giant empire, and here in Aotearoa we were only making calls using 2G. Twenty years on and how things have changed.
Not only have mobile phones become a critical tool, we rely on broadband enabled devices for just about everything, the Māori economy included. But the Crown wasn’t about to let us have a share in that, they clearly spelt out they were the only “partner” who owned the rights to radio spectrum, despite existing even when Kupe arrived in Aotearoa thousands of years ago.
The result of the claim Wai 776? Well we won, with the Tribunal by majority agreeing that Iwi had a ‘prior interest’ in radio spectrum. In other words, it was a natural resource that Māori who are Treaty Partners have equal rights to, just like the rivers, flora and fauna, seabed and foreshore, well we know how that one panned out.
So, in true Crown style they refused to concede and negotiate a fair and equitable outcome, choosing instead to facilitate a number of half measures that have consistently failed to deliver anything of substance. Reading between the lines they didn’t want to set a precedent that modern resources like “spectrum” could ever be owned by Māori.
Instead the Crown created a charitable trust known as the Māori Spectrum Trust which later became Te Huarahi Tika Trust and gave it a one off payment of $5m. It was a way to keep the Māori MP’s happy at the time, the relative gift of blankets and muskets so to speak. The money was used to enter into a commercial relationship and shareholding in Telco – 2degrees and the right to purchase 3G spectrum. Later the initial 2degree’s shareholding was restructured into a new shareholding in Trilogy the parent company of 2degrees.
As the son of Rangiaho Everton and her vision for Māori, she did not envisage this outcome, therefore I have always stayed committed to continue to fight for Māori rights to the Radio Spectrum under Article 2 of the Treaty. I choose not to be involved in the Trust set up by the Government, as I saw it as a Crown based way of undermining our claim. Instead I choose to remain a claimant with Wai 776 after my mother died and later Wai 2224, a combined spectrum claim. I have continued to develop technology projects that demonstrate the potential uses of radio spectrum, with my latest initiative establishing a 5G rural based test network in the Manawatū to show Māori have the technical capacity and vision to use radio spectrum and build value for their communities.
The Crown needs to change its own dictatorial approach to settling this claim and instead share what is absolutely our entitlement. By allowing Māori to partner in this valuable resource we can then become Masters of our Destiny to create change and make an impact within this ever evolving technological world.
In saying that, I do remain optimistic that 20 years on the Crown will do the right thing this time round as we approach the impending auction for 5G radio spectrum. Communications Minister Kris Faafoi, who has taken over from former Minister Clare Curran, is in the driving seat for this portfolio and has advised the Mobile Telcos that 5G allocation is still on track for early 2020.
However, he has indicated that “there are some issues to get through to get it to that stage”, with such issues including “not insignificant” Iwi expectations established during the process for allocation of 4G spectrum for development opportunities. So these “not insignificant” Iwi expectations are in fact “very significant” Iwi expectations but of course the Crown couldn’t spell it out in this way, could they?
So, however this pans out and what the Crown are willing to negotiate, Māori should be ready to make the most of the opportunity that 5G brings to Aotearoa. 5G capability is considered crucial for the wide take up of automated services such as driverless cars, Virtual/Augmented Reality and smart technologies that can monitor and manage everything from industrial services to farm machinery and home energy technologies.
Māori have a passionate and technologically savvy youth, Māori businesses are looking to invest in technology enterprises, particularly those that can deliver international opportunities and are all aware of the changes that are coming in the future for employment. The past employment changes have divided Māori communities, and 5G could do the same if Māori aren't part of the drivers of this change.
However, Māori are still under represented in the industry and Telco’s like Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees, need to stop talking in one voice, saying Māori are an important and respected partner and in the next breath failing to acknowledge their vision for a 5G future and that Māori have absolute rights in the spectrum. At the harshest end they could be seen as complicit in the unlawful confiscation of natural resources, surely a breach of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and at the other end people before profit. They could be constructive if they work with Māori and the Crown to find an acceptable solution that doesn't include giving up spectrum ownership.
Which brings me to why my mum took the claim originally. She believed that spectrum would be more important than cash. For her it was an assertion of Tino Rangatiratanga against the Crown that had assumed it had sole rights when it doesn’t. Like land, it was part of the Māori natural estate, and there was no room in her mind to give ownership up because there was an obligation to pass it on to the next generation as a taonga and it would be the foundation of a whole new economy once our people were trained and building new businesses. Twenty years on now is the right time to honour her vision and for the Crown to do the right thing and uphold Māori rights, because the last time I recall it was called a partnership, not a dictatorship…or is it?