Telstra today accused the Howard Government of punishing 1.5 million Australian shareholders by putting politics ahead of policy in the lead up to the federal election.
Lashing out at the appointment of Attorney General Philip Ruddock as adjudicator in the CDMA shutdown dispute, Telstra country wide general manager Geoff Booth, was adamant the telco would stick with its plans and switch off the network on January 28, 2008.
Moreover, Booth said Telstra will continue to assess its legal options.
He said the telco will continue its struggle to overcome the "government's unnecessary intervention" and do its best "under a biased regime."
Even in this environment, Booth said Telstra would continue to roll-out world-class services to people living in regional Australia.
As reported yesterday in Computerworld, ICT Minister Helen Coonan has appointed the AG to assess whether Telstra should be able to close its CDMA network by January 28, 2008. The government has stated that the telco should only close the older network once its HSDPA Next G network has the same or better coverage.
But as far as Booth was concerned: "We have the handsets, we will have the same or better coverage by mid-October and I can see no reason why we would not be able to switch off the network as planned on Jan 28 2008.
"It beggars belief that any Government, let alone one facing a tough election, would choose to prejudice the opportunity for its citizens to access a broadband service that is unbeaten anywhere in the world.
"Why is this Government wedded to an old, last century phone system rather than making a change to a world-leading, next generation network? Why do they continue to back a Singapore based company over the interests of an Australian telecommunications provider?
"By issuing the licence condition just 24 hours after being asked to consider the situation, the AG has clearly not given Telstra's 1.5 million shareholders a fair go despite its potentially serious impact on their investments," he said. "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." Booth said 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 added.
Responding to Telstra's claims, a spokesperson for Senator Coonan said the AG was appointed as adjudicator on the draft licence condition to prevent suggestions of prejudgment.
"Telstra's own public commitment was to retain the CDMA network in operation until the Next G network provided as good or better coverage and services [and] the Minister considered that it was appropriate to commence consultation on a draft licence condition to safeguard against the risk of the CDMA network being shut down before Telstra met its public commitment," the spokesperson said.