Communications Minister Helen Coonan will no longer decide when Telstra can switch off its CDMA network -- that responsibility now falls on Attorney-General Philip Ruddock.
Coonan handed over the decision -- on how and when the CDMA network will be closed -- to Ruddock on Friday, charging him with deciding whether a recent draft amendment to Telstra's carrier licence, which prevents the telco from switching off the network without government permission, will go ahead.
Ruddock today accepted the licence condition changes, meaning Telstra will now need to seek approval from the government before killing CDMA.
The controversy surrounding the switch off scheduled for the end of January 2008, has ramped up recently, with Telstra announcing its intention to take the Minister to court.
The telco alleges Coonan is "hamper[ing] the Next G network broadband deployment by prejudging the outcome of her consultation with Telstra on the draft CDMA licence condition".
The Minister denies the charge, saying she had given Telstra 30 days to make submissions regarding the proposed amendment and had been reviewing them when the telco announced the court action.
"So as to ensure that there is no suggestion of prejudgement regarding this decision and to ensure that Australian taxpayers and Telstra shareholders are spared unnecessary delay and expense, the Attorney-General will take on the role of decision maker," she said in a statement.
Geoff Booth, GMD of Telstra Country Wide, said Coonan had passed on the decision-making to Ruddock for political reasons.
"You would have to believe Mr Ruddock made up his mind even before getting the job on Friday -- which is incredible he was only put in the position of deciding the matter because Minister Coonan fell into the same trap. Minister Coonan only stepped aside for one reason -- it was obvious that she had prejudged the matter and it would never have stood up in court.
"Now she has achieved the same outcome through political games, but in the process left the Attorney-General vulnerable to the very same charge," he said.
Both the government and Telstra have said they will not allow the closure of the CDMA network until its replacement, the Next G mobile network, provides equal or better coverage. While Telstra says it expects that threshold to be crossed in October of this year, the Minister believes there is not sufficient time before the proposed closure for the government to independently audit the network's performance.