Despite protests from indigenous Maori tribes, the New Zealand government has announced plans for a 4G spectrum auction starting 29 October. Auction registration starts on 11 September.

A reserve price of NZD22 million ($17 million) has been set for each of the nine 2x5MHz spectrum blocks in the 700MHz frequency band.

The government says it spent NZD157 million on clearing the 700MHz for 4G use. The reserve price for the nine spectrum lots combined – NZD198 million – more than covers those costs.

“In setting the reserve price, we have balanced generating a fair return on the sale of the spectrum rights with the significant investment required by mobile network operators to build the 4G network infrastructure,” said communications minister Amy Adams

According to Maori tribes, however, the government doesn’t have the authority to auction the spectrum. Under the 173-year-old Treaty of Waitangi, Britain guaranteed the rights of unspecified national resources to New Zealand’s first people. For Maori tribes that includes spectrum.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the case is currently before the Waitangi Tribunal, a commission dealing with grievances raised by the indigenous Maori population.

Although the case is still to be heard, the government decided to go ahead with the auction anyway. Adams has argued that Maori tribes have no spectrum rights under the treaty.

Vodafone New Zealand and Telecom New Zealand (TNZ) – both of which already offer 4G services — have said they will participate in the auction. 2degrees, the country’s third-largest operator, is also expected to bid.

As part of part of a plan to encourage new players, successful bidders will have five years in which to pay for their spectrum.

For new players entering the market, they will be required to cover 50 per cent of the New Zealand population within five years. Existing providers will need to ensure that 75 per cent of their rural 2G and 3G sites are upgraded to 4G within five years.

According to figures from GSMA Intelligence, Vodafone New Zealand had 2.3 million subscribers by end-June 2013, followed by TNZ (1.8 million) and 2degress (1.1 million).