May 15, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views

Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI) “a Failure For Maori”

2 min read

The Government’s pending announcement on the Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI) will be a failure for Maori if the Ministry of Economic Development’s (MED) approach to consultation with Maori on both the development of the RBI and the subsequent decision on the successful bidder is anything to go by” say’s Graeme Everton, long-time advocate for Maori participation in the Information and Telecommunications Technology (ICT) sector.

Graeme along with other advocates (Broadband Advocates for M?ori (BAM)) recently set up a website called Ipurangi Maori to highlight the upcoming decision on the RBI. The intent of the site was to provide a forum to raise awareness of the RBI and to provide feedback on the issues important to Maori.

MED was asked what was being done to ensure Maori participation in the RBI process but it soon became clear to Mr Everton that in fact apart from the private bid by Torotoro Waea, Maori weren’t being involved in any meaningful way, with little or no effective consultation being carried out during the development of the RBI or the subsequent tender process.

A call for the Government to be more open and inclusive of Maori in the RBI process was rejected by Chris Bishop, lead project manager for MED on the RBI. Efforts to raise concerns with Mr Bishop were ignored and in fact MED proved to be extremely unhelpful, to the extent that they blocked efforts to talk directly to bidders.

“What we had hoped to do was to get the three bidders perspectives on what opportunities they saw for Maori in the RBI and what they were prepared to do to ensure Maori were actively involved and benefited from the initiative but MED refused to allows us to talk to them and warned the bidders against talking to us” said Mr Everton.

A statement posted to the Ipurangi Maori website from Mr Bishop indicated that the Government did not see value in consulting with Maori prior to a decision being made on the winner of the tender but once a decision had been made they were prepared to facilitate discussion with the successful party.

The group is calling upon the Government to reject the recommendation from MED on its preferred bidder and to refer it back to them with a clear message that they must act in good faith and consult with Maori as a Treaty Partner and not just another end user.

New Zealand can’t afford to get this wrong but by not guaranteeing Maori participation it may just do so” says Mr Everton.

The group feels so strongly about the issue that they are looking at an option of a Waitangi Tribunal Claim. “At minimum we are considering taking it to the United Nations through the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) as a breach of Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” says Mr Everton. If we can’t get them to listen here maybe they will over there.

5 thoughts on “Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI) “a Failure For Maori”

  1. Govt starts broadband negotiations with Telecom, Vodafone

    State-owned enterprise Kordia said it was "dismayed" the Government had begun commercial negotiations with Telecom and Vodafone to upgrade rural broadband.

    Communications Minister Steven Joyce said he expected contracts to be signed with Telecom and Vodafone by the end of March.

    "Should that not prove possible for any reason, the Government reserves the right to re-tender for the contract."

    Mr Joyce said the joint bid by Telecom and Vodafone for the Government's $300 million Rural Broadband Initiative was the only one that increased mobile coverage, and it would ensure "serious competition", with many rural customers able to choose from fixed wireless, ADSL2+ and mobile broadband.

    Kordia was part of a rival consortium, OpenGate, which bid for the contract in competition to Telecom and Vodafone. Chief executive Geoff Hunt said the Government had decided to "stick with the status quo provided by the incumbent duopoly".

    "This decision effectively condemns rural communities to suffering from same old duopoly services that continue to under-deliver and hold rural New Zealand hostage," he said.

    “The government had an opportunity through the RBI to provide a technology step-change in services for rural New Zealand that would have laid a future-proof and highly competitive foundation for the next 15 years,” he added. "We should remember that this was supposed to be the rural broadband initiative and not the rural mobile initiative.”

    Mr Joyce said only 20 per cent of people in rural New Zealand could currently access broadband speeds of at least 5 megabits per second.

    "This will rise to 86 per cent of rural households and businesses, with 95 per cent of rural schools receiving ultra-fast connection. The extension of the fibre backbone into rural areas means more customers living on the fibre routes may be able to get fibre-to-the-door.

    "For many remote and not-so-remote rural areas this will be light years ahead of where they are today and will ensure they participate in the promise of the digital economy."

    The upgrade is due to be completed by 2016 and would see 719 rural schools connected with fibre.

    Mr Joyce said "strict open access rules" would be included in any contract.

    "This will promote healthy competition in both the rural wholesale and retail broadband markets. Other providers who have not been successful in the tender will be able to provide services using the government-funded infrastructure. The infrastructure will also support new technologies like 4G as they roll out."

    Ad Feedback He encouraged the unsuccessful bidders, which include state-owned enterprise Kordia, to work with Telecom and Vodafone to look at ways to "further improve" solutions for rural New Zealand.


  2. Kia ora Rural Connect and thank you for your feedback.

    I can’t say I’ve heard about the sole benefit principle of the Treaty of Waitangi – more the obligation of good faith and the expectation to facilitate good relationships between Maori and the Crown. In this instance, building rural broadband infrastructure is a political issue with major commercial implications but these need to have buy in from local communities or it simply wont work.

    What we have seen is that the political process is not transparent, that Maori inclusion – either as a provider of services or as a recipient of service – has received scant attention but that hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent. I think the build will be impressive but after analysing one of the bids, could see little reference to hapu, who ultimately endorsed the Treaty of Waitangi and that most of the advantages rest in the hands of the bigger players, like Telecom and Vodafone.

    You are correct in saying that it shouldn’t matter which ethnicity a household or business that gets connected is but it is more than right to ensure Maori are fully engaged in this process, as with all Governmental processes. What we appreciate about this contribution is that it expresses a deeply held belief that Maori will miss out, as has happened in the past with large scale infrastructure builds and more, that local concerns will be ignored for the sake of political and commercial expediency. We all want to ensure rural communities, homes, schools, service providers and businesses have access to top quality connections but need to raise voice now rather than wait until after the build has happened.

  3. Excuse me?

    What is being done to ensure Pakeha participation in the RBI? Nothing specific!

    But we are getting involved. From an early stage. And not as a johnny-come-lately.

    The reason we are involved is to ensure that businesses and households (and yes, Maraes) in our rural areas get the best possible broadband connections.

    It makes no difference whether the people in those businesses and households are Maori, Chinese, Indian or Pakeha. To work otherwise would be racist. No wonder the MED declined to be helpful!

    Justifying this outburst on the basis of the partnership provisions under the Treaty of Waitangi is reprehensible. The author is choosing to ignore the ‘sole benefit’ principle of the Treaty. It appears to have more to do with the commercial imperatives of the quoted website than with what is best for Maori.

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