Telstra forced to maintain its CDMA network until 2008

Next G audits planned over 12 weeks

Federal ICT Minister, Helen Coonan, has issued a draft license requiring Telstra maintain its CDMA network until its Next G network can provide a better service.

The move comes in the wake of Telstra's decision to personally sue the Minister over the $1 billion Broadband Connect subsidy, which was awarded to the Optus-led consortium that subsequently won the contract to build and extend regional broadband infrastructure.

Senator Coonan said the draft license was issued to alleviate government concerns the telco is cutting it too fine to meet the CDMA switch-off date, set for January 28, 2008.

"I have issued a draft licence condition to Telstra that would require them to keep the CDMA network open until the Next G network provides equivalent or better coverage and services, reflecting the public commitments Telstra has already made itself," Coonan said.

"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.

"I have just spent the last six weeks on the road across Australia and based on the level of frustration in the community, it is clear that this issue needs Telstra's urgent and genuine attention."

A defiant Telstra refused to push back the cut-off date, affirming it will advise by the October deadline whether its 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.

Coonan said the move was spurred by "Telstra's inaction on consumers' concerns", and announced the establishment of a Next G customer support line to log consumer problems with the switch to Next G

"Consumers will be able to provide feedback on performance and service issues with the Next G network which will be invaluable in assessing whether and when Telstra has met its public commitments on coverage and service equivalence," Coonan said, adding a Next G customer support group will perform an independent audit of Telstra's point-of-sale advice and product availability.

Telstra CEO, Sol Trujillo, was today invited to make a written submission on the draft licence condition over the next month for consideration into the final license condition.

Telstra's court action against Coonan is centred on the changes to the terms of the Broadband Connect program which filled the coffers with an additional $342 million midway through the process, raising the subsidy to $958 million.

The telco claims the move hindered its ability to win the tender and has taken the ICT minister to the federal court to force her to disclose documents to justify why the Optus-led consortium won the contract.

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