Ruddock to make the call on CDMA shut-off

Telstra steps-up legal assault

The highly-charged debate surrounding the shutdown of Telstra's CDMA network has forced the federal government to bring in "the law" with Attorney General Philip Ruddock taking on the role of adjudicator.

Federal ICT Minister Helen Coonan has formally announced that the matter will be adjudicated by Ruddock.

The move comes in the wake of an injunction launched by Telstra to stop the Minister from blocking the early switch-off of its CDMA network, set for January 28, 2008.

The injunction - the second legal battle launched against Coonan by Telstra - rides on accusations that the Minister breached her duties by preventing the closure of the CDMA network.

Lawyers for Telstra and Coonan met in Federal Court last Friday over the company's decision to personally sue the Minister over the $958 million Broadband Connect subsidy, which was awarded to the Optus-led consortium that subsequently won the contract to build and extend regional broadband infrastructure.

Coonan's office said Ruddock will take the reins on whether to formalize draft amendments to Telstra's carrier licence, designed to prevent the shut-off of the rural CDMA network until official audits determine it's Next G network is of equivalent coverage and capacity.

"So as to ensure that there is no suggestion of pre-judgement regarding this decision and to ensure that taxpayers and Telstra shareholders are spared unnecessary delay and expense, the Attorney-General will take on the role of decision maker," Coonan said.

"Telstra has publicly committed to the continued operation of the CDMA network until the Next G network provides equal to or better coverage and services."

Coonan still refutes Telstra's legal claims, and stressed her exit from the decision-making process is not an admission of bias or guilt.

"Telstra has advised it will not be able to say whether it has delivered equivalent or better coverage until October 15 this year; this is simply not enough time to ensure that their public commitments have been met," she said.

A defiant Telstra refused to push back the cut-off date, affirming it will advise by the October deadline whether its High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA)Next G network will surpass the current CDMA network.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has been tasked by Coonan to undertake independent coverage audits over 12 weeks of both the CDMA and Next G networks.

Have an opinion on this story? Click to e-mail Darren Pauli.

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