Telco sues Australian minister over WiMax scheme

Telstra alleges there were irregularities in the tender process for the building of a WiMax network intended to bring broadband to the bush

Telstra has lodged a complaint against Australia's communications minister, Helen Coonan, over the funding of the AU$1bn (£421m) WiMax network intended to bring broadband to bush users across Australia.

The telco announced that it has begun proceedings in the Australian Federal Court against the minister after, it alleged, she refused to give the company access to papers revealing how the winning tender was selected.

Coonan revealed in June that it had selected Opel, a joint venture between Optus and Elders, to build the bush WiMax network and that the funding for the project had been increased to AU$1bn, up from the AU$600m (£253m) originally earmarked for the scheme.

A Telstra spokesperson said that a hearing is now scheduled for Tuesday of next week, when a judge will hear from lawyers representing the telco and the minister.

"We tendered for a certain job and then we find out that it is not just AU$600m available — we were never informed the money would be increased... We want some clarification. If the goalposts are moved, everyone should be informed," he said. The telco alleged only the winning bidder, Opel, was made aware of the funding increase during the tender process.

"We want to assess if we have been unfairly treated and find out the full facts of how the tender was done," the spokesperson added. Coonan's office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Telstra also claimed that it has contacted the government for more detail on the planned extent of the Opel network and where it might overlap with its own services. The government said it would only provide the information on the condition Telstra did not make it public, the telco alleged.

To date, Opel has said that the bush network will use 1,361 WiMax base stations and cover 638,000 square kilometres. The joint venture has yet to announce the frequency that will be used by the network, prompting questions in the Australian parliament over possible interference from other wireless devices.


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